Comanche and Predator in an artistic hunt
Prey Review: Comanche and Predator on an Artistic Hunt
The trailers for Prey call it the Predator’s first hunt on Earth, but it really isn’t. Sorry, but the Alien vs Predator movies can’t be pulled out of the franchise as easily as Ridley Scott tried to pull them out of the franchise. Extraterrestrial series. Remember, Predator 2 established that Xenomorph aliens were hunted at least once by the Predator Yautja. And The predator canonized the events of at least the first AVP. In addition, Prey has a connection to at least one of them, so the studio can’t really release a card without the whole house collapsing. It’s okay not to like all the movies in a franchise. Virtually every big fan of movie series has to deal with this problem. But luckily most will probably appreciate Prey. It is perhaps the most visually arresting of the series.
Most Predator the movies look like action movies interrupted by an alien incursion. But Prey plays more like an arthouse movie at first. It features a small Comanche settlement around 1719, beautifully framed against a vast backdrop of mountains and sky. We meet Naru (Ambert Midthunder), a young woman who wants to go through the tribal process to become a warrior. It involves hunting something capable of killing her; implicitly, a bear. And when Naru sees a fire symbol in the sky, she assumes it’s a divine sign. Of course, we know better. There’s hardly a living moviegoer who isn’t at least peripherally aware of osmotic predators, if nothing else.
This Predator is particularly sadistic. Although he periodically shows mercy to those who cannot fight back, he has no problem skinning a snake, which is not a fair opponent. Honestly, the most relevant thing about the Yautja is that for all their space warrior codes of honor, they can be complete hypocrites when something goes wrong with them or stirs up their emotions. Just like humans.
CG cloaking and Predator gore aside, much of the first half of the movie feels like an art movie. It’s a slow-moving look at Comanche life, presumably authentic, though it’s not bold enough to pull off a Mel Gibson and everyone speaks Comanche. A dubbed version will be available, but any dub is rarely preferable to the original production dialogue. The Comanche language is depicted here in English, so when non-Native characters enter the film midway through, any “English” they speak is presumed to actually be Comanche. At the same time, the film takes a turn in a territory similar to The ghost, with an alien killer thrown in the middle. It’s a bit of a change of formula for a series more fond of imitation The Dirty Dozen.
Fundamentally, Prey is much more of a one-on-one competition than previous franchise installments. Even the original, billed as an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, surrounded its star player Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and Bill Duke. Naru just has his brother, who is slightly annoyed that his sister wants the warrior glory he is also after.
Whereas in theory it is more difficult to make a Predator movie that isn’t about a bunch of slowly hand-picked distinctive characters, that’s thankfully not the case here. Director Dan Trachtenberg, who has already worked wonders with minimal characters in 10 Cloverfield Lane, keeps the Battle of the Lone Warrior interesting by occasionally following the Predator’s journey as well as Naru’s. It’s an overstatement to say that he makes both equally interesting. But as Yautja goes, this one has arguably the most development since the wolf in Aliens vs. Predator: Resurrection. Luckily, that’s the only thing it has in common with the otherwise undisputed worst installment.
Director of Photography Jeff Cutter (10 Cloverfield Lane, Orphan) and interior designer Kara Lindstrom (den of thieves) create an enveloping world here, rather than letting the trees do most of the work. more than even predators, which was actually set in another world, it feels like a New World in a metaphorical and historical sense (and Terrence Malick). It’s a shame this was made for streaming release, because in some ways it’s the most cinematic Predator of all. Midthunder and Dane DiLiegro as Yautja take on the show’s challenge. They transcend their character types without ever betraying the actual characters or getting too self-conscious.
There’s a very specific place for a sequel at the end, though typically, episodes in this franchise never continue a protagonist’s story. This is partly due to the actors’ salary negotiations, the schedule, and also the fact that the sequels never seem to do as well as the property’s name recognition suggests. At one point, the goal was to market Prey secretly Predator movie, although it’s not clear that it would have been better. He would rather have been bone tomahawk. Yautja characters tend to sell merchandise better than movies, and to that end, the version shown here sports a distinctive look that should become a fan favorite.
Still, Trachtenberg remembers the most important rule: the Predator is just a character. The film that surrounds it must also be good. Prey would work if it fully fired the alien and kept it on the human characters. But that would certainly be much less cool.
To note: 4.5/5
Prey debuts on Hulu on Friday, August 5.
Recommended Reading: Predator: The Essential Comics Volume 1
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Examination of prey. Also Prey’s review. And Prey’s review. Now the Prey review.