WARNING: Spoilers for Prey (2022)
It has been years since we last saw our favorite Hunter taking down prey with extreme prejudice. But sadly, our last adventure (2018's The Predator) left a bad taste in my mouth (and in a lot of fans' mouths). I was worried when they announced that the new film in the franchise (a prequel entitled Prey) was going to be released on Hulu instead of theaters. But I am more than happy to report that this is hands down the best Predator film since the original. In fact, technically, it’s actually better made than the original. No puns here. This film feels the least like a B movie of the whole franchise.
It is serious, it is deadly, and it is fucking awesome.
Amber Midthunder plays Naru, a Comanche who wants to be a hunter, but is stuck in the role her tribe has assigned her. Naru is a great character who features a very simple, yet relatable and fully realized arc. Sometimes simpler is better. She has good connections with several other tribesmen, especially her brother Taabe (played by Dakota Beavers) and great camaraderie with her dog, who I was terrified for the entire time.
One thing that I loved about this film was that we get to discover what a Predator is for the first time again as an audience. It's paced like the original film; with a slow reveal of the creature. All the other sequels are shot like they already know what the monster looks like. They like to feature the Predator in hero shots that showcase it from the very beginning. That is not bad thing, and makes sense when featuring a character the audience is familiar with. But Prey slowly teases the Predator's reveal throughout the first half, which gives it a very suspenseful feeling. Nearly every scene is tense.
It gets very close to the feeling of a horror film without fully dipping into that genre.
The B Story with the French poachers also added a nice extra element of tension because we don’t know how they will react to our Comanche hero. Their presence is nicely teased early in the film, and ends in of the of the most badass scenes I've seen in a Predator film. Even if some of the poachers feel just slightly cartoonish, they are memorable.
The directing is impeccable. Dan Trachtenberg (directer of 10 Cloverfield Lane) is a man at the top of his craft. He uses the camera perfectly, giving us gorgeous wide shots of an unspoiled American heartland in some scenes, and then showcasing incredible violence with just the right amount of flair in others. We don’t sit too long on shots of action, but this isn’t a hectic Jason Bourne film either; it’s the perfect sweet spot.
The Predator itself is brutal and fantastic.
We get a much more feral beast this time. It even looks gnarlier than the Predators of past films. This new Predator moves up the food chain, hunting his way from a rattlesnake, right up to a grizzly bear. This was a great detail that added a little personality to this new alien hunter. It even gets on all four limbs when fighting a wolf. But once it makes it to the bear, you know this thing is a badass. It's new weapons and toys are also a great addition to the line-up featured throughout the franchise. Less advanced spear cannons and shields dominate this Predator's repertoire. And Dan gives us plenty of opportunities to showcases Predator badassery in the back half (specifically a sequence that shows the Predator kill more people at one time than we’ve ever seen in a film before). It is glorious.
This film is technically a prequel, but it stands on its own. This is an example of how to do a prequel properly! It still leaves all the tension from the past films intact, and doesn't cheapen any of the previous encounters by "over explaining" how a character got there. Being set hundreds of years before that first film helps. But it's not like the film has ZERO connections to what came before. Did you catch the Easter egg reference? That's right! The pistol given to Naru is the same pistol Greyback gives Harrigan (Danny Glover) at the end of Predator 2! Makes the ending of this film a little foreboding!
Sadly the music is missing the iconic jungle drums. This is a shame, as that sound really helps Predator feel unique. I also figured those drums would work well with the tribal feel the film captures. However, the classic Predator theme is still here, this time played by a visceral sounding cello. It makes the theme sound unique and dangerous, while still being recognizable. Big props to composer Sarah Schachner for finding a great sweet spot between sounding new, and yet definitely Predator.
Some of the CGI could have been improved upon, and small editing choices probably could have been better; like when Naru hits her head fighting the lion only to wake up in her hut later. But if there's anything I'm actually disappointed with, it's the Comanche cut of the film. Certain interviews with the crew seemed to imply the filmmakers shot two versions of the film with the actors speaking in English in one take, and then again in Comanche. I was looking forward to fully immersing myself into the world with English subtitles used to translate. But sadly, it's simply a dub over the English version of the film. They try to make lip movements match, but it is still obvious it's not the correct language. It reminded me of watching the old Japanese Godzilla films as a child with their horrendous English dubs. Hulu doesn't even offer subtitles, so unless you speak Comanche or have already seen the film, you won't really know what is being said. That's a shame.
I wasn't sure what I was going to get with Prey. I love the director, but the lack of theatrical release really scared me. But now I'm wondering why this film DIDN'T get a theatrical release. It was stellar! And would have made a ton of money. Featuring exciting action, solid characters, brutal violence, and beautiful cinematography, this is a rare franchise film that doubles as not only the best Predator film since the original, but one of the very best prequel films ever made. Do not skip Prey!
If you would like to see where Prey stacks up compared to the rest of the franchise, be sure to read my Predator Franchise Review HERE!