TL;DR – a perfect blend of action and tension that makes you sit on the edge of your seat and makes your skin crawl every time you hear the predator’s sound.
Post-Credit Scene – There is something at the end of the mid-credits.
Disclosure – I paid for the Disney+ service that viewed this film.
Prey Review –
There are some directors that when you watch their debut film, you know they will soar because this first film is already a master to watch. One of those directors was Dan Trachtenberg, who, with 10 Cloverfield Lane, terrified me when using one location and just three actors. But it has been a long transit between drinks, and I am happy to be able to watch his follow-up, which is a new take on the Predator franchise.
So to set the scene, in 1719, on The Northern Great Plains in the land which is now called America, lived Naru (Amber Midthunder), a member of the Comanche Nation and a skilled axe thrower. One day when she was hunting a white-tailed deer, the animal became spooked by a loud noise from above. Seeing an alien spaceship in the clouds and interpreting it as a thunderbird, Naru knows it is time for her kühtaamia, where she hunts something hunting her. When a mountain lion takes one of the tribe, Naru, her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), and a group of young men search through the forest to find him, unaware that behind a cloaking shield, a Predator (Dane DiLiegro) lies in wait.
The first thing that film gets right is the tension because, without tension, the action is meaningless. As the audience, you are purview to more than what the characters are because you know from the start that the alien is real and that it is invisible. The filmmakers use this knowledge against you by weaponising every moment in the film because there could be a predator lurking in any open space or just out of frame. The only other time I have felt tension like this was when watching The Invisible Man, but while there, it was covered in a layer of abuse. Here, it is hiding sheer carnage. The team heightens this with some of the best sound design in cinema, using the noise the predator makes to amp your heart rate up, put you on the edge of your seat, or both.
To complement the tension of the film is the setting. Taking the predator out of a modern environment, like in the previous The Predator, and taking them back to the 1700s has two significant bonuses to the narrative. The first is that it dramatically increases the threat of the predator because gone are all the fancy machineguns, rockets, etc., that you could use to take it down. This also means that the characters in the film don’t know how much danger they are in when three red dots appear on their bodies. The second strength is that it gets to situate your big sci-fi/action film in a setting that rarely gets nuanced coverage. While I am not an expert in this area, the number of Comanche consultants they had on the film made it feel that it had tapped into that world, and I hope it is as genuine as it feels. Also, it helps you make some pointed comparisons between the predator and the colonising French trappers and also some sharp distinctions.
You need your cast to buy into the premise entirely for an action film of this calibre to work. Amber Midthunder is a revelation as Naru, the tracker that sees the threat before everyone else. Her character arc hits all the right beats as she discovers what is inside her and how to take on this threat. She completely encapsulates this character that is trying to prove herself to everyone around her, and maybe also a little to herself as well. I always bought from the start just how good she would be and how she would be an equal for the predator. The supporting cast is also strong, with Dakota Beavers providing that perfect big-brother energy as Taabe. He has such a strong physical presence that you 100% believe he could take down a mountain lion by himself, even though you know it was not just by himself. The development of both characters throughout the film gave it the narrative strength to plough through to the end without skipping a beat. I liked that there were times when they were both right, even though they were coming to different conclusions because it felt right for the characters.
Then we have the action, which also shines, as you can tell that a lot of care and attention went into its construction. One of the things I found interesting while watching the film was how death happens off-screen with a sound effect in some moments, and other times, it happens up close, personal, and covered in blood. The way each character and animal approached the predator and its weapons felt right for each of their circumstances. There are these little vignettes throughout the film, like the predator facing down a wolf, which, while interesting, also build on capabilities and tactics going forward. Everything that happens in the third act feels grounded because you have seen those moments and skills be reinforced throughout the film. Every action moment in this film is different, so you never feel like you are rehashing over covered ground. Thinking back through the film, my favourite action scene is probably a toss-up between the first real encounter by the log or the final showdown.
There was a sense that all the action scenes (and the film in general) was tightly cut so that there was no wasted time. But then the film also knows when you need time to breathe and take everything in. When it comes to the depiction of the predator, the film takes a less-is-more approach for most of the film, which works for the character and the fact that it is cloaked most of the time. They have kept the character’s visual design and technology from the 80s film while updating it just enough that it does not feel jarring in 2022. This combination makes for a terrifying predator, even if you don’t see its face for most of the film. The location work is stunning, with the crew finding some of the most picturesque spots in Alberta to cover in blood. The costume and set design felt appropriate for the time, and it is supported by a musical score that highlights the threat and location.
In the end, do we recommend Prey? If you have Hulu or Disney+, giving this a watch is simply a no-brainer. It is the type of film I think would have excelled on the big screen but is still just as good at home. The characters and the setting all work together to create a world that captivates you from the first frame to the ending and all in-between. If you liked Prey, we would also recommend to you A Quiet Place.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Prey
Directed by – Dan Trachtenberg
Story by – Patrick Aison & Dan Trachtenberg
Screenplay by – Patrick Aison
Based on – Predator by Jim Thomas & John Thomas
Music by – Sarah Schachner
Cinematography by – Jeff Cutter
Edited by – Angela M. Catanzaro & Claudia Castello
Production/Distribution Companies – 20th Century Studios, Davis Entertainment, Lawrence Gordon Productions, Hulu & Disney+
Starring – Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, Julian Black Antelope, Stefany Mathias, Bennett Taylor, Mike Paterson, Nelson Leis, Tymon Carter, Skye Pelletier, Harlan Kytwayhat, Corvin Mack, Ginger Cattleman, Seanna Eagletail, Samiyah Crowfoot, Cody Big Tobacco, Troy Mundle, Curtis Vinish, Stephane Legault, Stephan Schroeoer, Eric Beaudoin & Coco
Rating – Australia: MA15+; United States: R