To borrow a phrase from Mean Girls, Prey is the latest attempt from 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox) to make “fetch” happen. No one has truly cared about seeing Predator onscreen since the 1987 original. Predator 2, two Alien vs. Predator movies, Predators, The Predator - none made any kind of significant impression at the box office. A couple of them were even pretty good. Despite clear ambivalence on the public's part, the studio keeps trying to figure out a way to make people care about the franchise. Their latest attempt, the very entertaining Prey, could potentially do the trick. Then again, it's skipping theaters and debuting on Hulu. An inability to view it on a massive theater screen will dampen the you-gotta-see-it word of mouth an action flick of this sort needs.
What's different this time? For starters, the setting. Prey takes place 300 years ago, in the Comanche Nation. And, in an additional bit of script-flipping, the main character is a young woman. Naru (the appealing Amber Midthunder) is a capable warrior who nevertheless doesn't get much respect from the male members of her tribe. Does she prove her mettle? You bet! In fact, Naru is the only one who comprehends that an unknown entity is out there killing animals and any unlucky humans it comes across. In order to protect her tribe, she'll have to track the thing down and slay it.
The “thing,” of course, is the alien Predator, a vicious hunter with a high-tech arsenal and a strategic ability to make itself transparent. The question is, how do you take a being like that out? Naru relies on trial and error, but also observes the creature, getting a sense of its vulnerabilities, however small. She gets eventual assistance from her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), once he realizes his sister knew what she was talking about after all.
Prey doesn't have a whole lot of actual story. You know early on that the young female hunter will do what the men of her tribe cannot, although such triumph is always rousing to see. Mostly, the movie is a series of hunting/fighting scenes. In this regard, it shines. A sequence in which the Predator fights a bear – while Naru frantically tries to stay out of the way – is thrilling. Another scene, where Naru struggles to pull herself out of the mud pit she's rapidly sinking into, is one of the most suspenseful things I've seen onscreen all year. Perhaps more than any of the other sequels, this one gets the whole “I'm hunting you while you're hunting me” vibe that made the Arnold Schwarzenegger original work. Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) stages the action well, keeping it fast-paced, yet not so heavily-edited that you can't tell what's happening.
The other selling point is Amber Midthunder. The actress takes a character who is relatively one-dimensional and who has a predictable arc, and invests her with personality. Naru's determination is able to be felt by the viewer while watching the movie. Beyond that, Midthunder is fully credible in the action scenes. Because we believe this warrior's drive, believing she can find a way to take down the Predator becomes a lot easier.
Will an original setting and a different kind of hero be enough to get the public invested? Time will tell. To Prey's credit, Trachtenberg knows exactly what movie he wants to make. Unlike the previous sequels, even those that weren't bad, he's not fumbling in the dark, trying to find a magical formula that will click with fans of Predator. The movie is a fast-paced, bloody-as-hell action picture with a primal edge, set in a historical time period, and sending a message that competence outweighs gender. If nothing else, it proves there's still a little life left in the series.
out of four
Prey is rated R for strong bloody violence. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.