'Prey' review: 'Predator' franchise gets the hardcore and bloody prequel it deserves
Courtesy of Hulu/20th Century Studios
If you’ve kept an ongoing track record around the success rate, commercially and critically, of the “Predator” franchise, you’re aware the IP doesn’t exactly scream theatrical viability. The last surray, Shane Black’s “The Predator” didn’t make much noise (I thought it was kind of fun), so it’s no surprise given the corporate leadership change and a mandate to eventized Hulu, Dan Trachtenberg’s western, stylized prequel “Prey,” arguably the best sequel this series has ever seen, won’t be viewed on the big screen. “Prey” has the enigma of a theatrical release (given the dereth of big-screen content in August, the film might have made some coin) but nevertheless, Trachtenberg, best known for the excellent “10 Cloverfield Lane,” delivers a worthy addition in the “Predator” canon that comes close to replicating the simplistic and primitive nature of John McTiernan’s 1987 classic. In other words, it kicks all sorts of ass.
Blending the old and the new can be a tricky juggling act that usually plagues legacy sequels and revamps of beloved franchises, but Trachtenberg enjoys messing with the scope of the world where, at first, it doesn’t even feel like a “Predator” movie, which is a compliment. You’re more likely to find “The Revenant” comparisons before it gets labeled a sci-fi actioner, as “Prey” focuses on members of the Comanche Nation in the 1700s, long before Arnold Schwarzenegger yelled “get to the choppa!”
At the center of this world is Naur (Amber Midthunder - a revelation) an agile warrior desperate to prove she’s just as strong and dependable as her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) who generally hogs the attention and accolades. It’s evident among the tribe who is smarter and resourceful, but social hierarchies have a way of clouding judgment. At least she has a loyal dog who accompanies her on many journeys into the woods.
“Prey” takes a different approach than some of its peers (remember when “Predators” literally dropped us right in the middle of the action and never subsided?), opting for a slower build-up until the eventual carnage. Which is exactly what happens after a ship crash lands in the middle of the territory and a Predator, equipped with the strength to slice open and skin a grizzly bear within seconds, emerges. Nobody believes Naur’s warnings until it’s too late and 60-minutes of non-stop bloody rampages follows. When will people listen?
Trachtenberg sometimes bites off more than he can chew, introducing fur-trappers and invaders without a commentary on how it affects the Comanche tribe (however they make good fodder for the Predator to chow down on). Not to mention the rendered CGI effects (the Predator, blood and guts, and animals) are a far cry from the practical usage we saw in the original movie. Studios need to understand that it doesn’t matter how much money you pour into creating CGI creatures, they’ll always look fake. Still, Trachtenberg builds suspense from the ground-up and the aforementioned grizzly bear royale is a smackdown of epic proportions, elevated by Midthunder’s physically dominant performance. Those looking for a backstory or inkling as to the why or how this killing machine landed where it did should probably hit the snooze.
The quality of “Prey” will keep justifying streamers rationale for dusting off dated IP to fuel their services (and shareholders) bottom line, but most won’t contain the heart or precision Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison have created here. Partially because “Prey” is the rare sequel that compliments the past while standing on its own, and because it found a way to excel within a dormant series that had little to prove.
PREY debuts on Hulu Friday, August 5th.