Concluding 2022’s surprise “women marching into the dark, unknowable wilderness” trilogy that began with Firestarter and Hellbender is Dan Trachtenberg’s remarkable Prey. Quietly the fifth installment of the Predator franchise, a series of action/science fiction films involving extraterrestrial game hunters, Prey is the rare prequel unencumbered by lore or smug callbacks that refines the core components of the original and jettisons everything else, resulting in a lean, ruthlessly efficient survival thriller. In the age of studio bloat, Prey is nothing short of a miracle.
Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a Comanche healer with something to prove in the 1719 Great Plains. Naru wants to be a hunter, and when a tribe member goes missing, she joins a search party for what they believe to be a rogue cougar. Trachtenberg and crew waste no time in disabusing this notion.
In the original Predator (1987), Arnold Schwarzenegger and his team of paramilitary goons are picked off by a space monster with advanced weapons and stealth technology in the Central American rain forest; Reagan-era military supremacy thwarted by forces it doesn’t understand. Subsequent Predator entries never quite figured out a suitability fertile subtextual context for its mandible-emphasized baddie to haunt, from the Los Angeles “concrete jungle” (groan) of Predator 2 (1990) to the geographically confused locations (a military laboratory, suburbia, the jungle again, I think?) visited in The Predator (2018). Prey isn’t subtle about being about an indigenous community fending off an invading menace. It doesn’t need to be.
In her travels, Naru discovers an iron trap laid by the French. Like Apocalypto, it suggests that humans are just one adjustable notch on a food chain, with the Predator (Dane DiLiegro) gradually working its way up from snakes and wolves to a wonderful early set piece involving an angry bear. I like that this Predator takes a beating from these “lesser” foes, as if it too is susceptible to the capriciousness of nature. I also like the vulnerability it awards Naru and the space for growth in a little over 90 minutes. I especially like her weapon of choice, an axe tied to a retractable rope and whose brutally graceful choreography would be right at home in John Wick. Practical? Probably not. Fun to watch? Absolutely. Prey is a masterclass in setup and execution; everything introduced in the first act has a clever payoff in the third. Nothing registers as extraneous or underdeveloped. To quote from its sister franchise, I admire its purity.
Yet Prey’s niftiest feature is also its easiest to overlook. While filmed in English (and some French), Trachtenberg also had the cast record a Comanche language dub of the entire film. I did not expect this level of verisimilitude from the fifth Predator movie, but am happy to have it. Accessing the Comanche dub on Hulu requires some foreknowledge; playing the film from the homepage defaults to English, and once started the audio options offer only English and English Audio Description. However, select the film’s Details and scroll down to the You May Also Like toolbar, and you’ll see a “Prey (Comanche dub)” button. It suffers the usual dub drawbacks, i.e. mouth movements aren’t perfectly in sync with the audio. But it lends additional texture to an already smart work.
Runtime: 100 minutes
MPA Rating: R