Prey review – Predator prequel gives a nifty spin to a bloated franchise

·5-min read

There’s an obvious lack of creative necessity to Hollywood’s overwhelming churn of prequels, sequels, remakes, reboots and revisions, more so by the minute, as studio-owned streaming services plunder back catalogues for more ways they can exploit known properties. Upcoming TV shows based on Fatal Attraction, Alien, Grease, Mr and Mrs Smith, The Lord of the Rings and Reality Bites and films based on The Killer, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Crow, White Men Can’t Jump, Road House, Scarface and The Bodyguard are all so commercially inevitable that it’s almost hard to be angry, each new announcement deserving little more than a resigned shrug. It’s business, not pleasure.

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So on the rare occasion that this practice offers up something that feels even mildly outside of the algorithm, as if perhaps maybe a human might have come up with it rather than a spreadsheet, it’s hard not to give it more credit than it often deserves. Fox AKA Disney AKA Hulu AKA Disney+ in international territories, has dragged the Predator series back to life once again for a seventh outing (two Predators, two Alien vs Predators, a Predators and a The Predator make six) but rather than continuing down the same well-trodden road, they’ve taken a left-turn and then gone back around 300 years.

For the neatly titled Prey, the 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg (who knows a thing or two about finding a smart way into a sci-fi franchise) places us in the year 1719 and in the Comanche Nation. A young woman Naru (Amber Midthunder) continues to try, and fail, to impress those around with her skills as a warrior, talked down to and belittled by the men who refuse to take her ambition seriously. But when Naru notices a new kind of predator, one who can’t simply be hunted as a bear or lion would, she finds a way to prove herself and save her people.

It’s a fresh spin, surprisingly fresh, and in a belated period of increased representation for Indigenous Americans (mostly on the small screen with Reservation Dogs, Rutherford Falls and Dark Winds), it’s one of the biggest wins yet. While it really shouldn’t be, it feels genuinely new to see a genre film of this scale centred on an almost entirely Native cast (the only white characters are odious French invaders, natch). It’s worth applauding not because of the mere fact of what it is and what it means but because screenwriter Patrick Aison (a TV pro with credits including Jack Ryan and Wayward Pines), finds a way to make it all seem perfectly seamless, the setting an inventive way to impose a new set of restrictions on a story we’ve seen a few too many times before. The Predator’s hi-tech armory (which seems more brutal and expansive than ever) is even more intimidating when matched with the tribe’s limited resources. It’s an interesting puzzle for a writer and Aison finds nifty ways to work around it, focusing on stripped-back ingenuity rather than mere weaponry (some of Naru’s ideas will be met with a vocal aha).

While it’s a treat for those at home, streaming exclusively on the small screen, it’s a bit of a shame that something with such impressively grand vistas and intricate, well-choreographed action won’t be seen at the cinema, yet another recent digital premiere that feels suited for a life less ordinary (and one like Father of the Bride, Good Luck to You Leo Grande and Spiderhead that could have made some considerable money at the box office). The Predator franchise has never been a particularly complex one and has always suffered from the inescapable comparisons to Alien but the pleasingly self-contained Prey is made with an awareness of what simple pleasures we expect and enjoy and unlike some of the weaker entries, there’s no muddled or misfiring attempt to add much depth or exposition (the moment in the often brilliantly silly Alien vs Predator when the Predator explains to Sanaa Lathan’s character that he’s set a timed bomb by doing an explosion sign with his hand is an all-timer). Despite being a prequel, there’s mercifully no attempt to delve into the mythology and origins of the Predator and no suggestion that the world is receiving a deeper expansion anytime soon.

It works best when it’s at its most B-movie basic and while it doesn’t quite have the giddy highs of last year’s similarly meat-and-potatoes monster movie Godzilla vs Kong, it smashes through a low bar with ease. Said smashing is done with gusto from 25-year-old Midthunder who rises to the challenge of taking on the Predator even if her character’s ascent from unsure warrior-in-training to top-of-the-food-chain action hero is missing a few beats or, dare I say, a training montage. It leaves a few how-did-shes in the second act before a rousing finale leaves us in no doubt of her powers.

We didn’t need a Predator prequel (have we ever really needed any prequel?) but Prey is a nimble beast, far nimbler than it could have been and while it’s not quite enough to make us crave more from a franchise that’s already given us too much, it’s enough to justify the journey way back.

  • Prey is available on Hulu in the US and Disney+ elsewhere on 5 August

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