Chicago – Conceptually, Prey does exactly what franchise films should do. Rather than trot aging stars who couldn’t care less about a blind reboot that does the same thing as the movie that started it all – but worse – this movie takes a germ of an idea and turns it into a fresh new story in the same Universe settled. Here’s the gist of it, the intergalactic race of high-tech trophy hunters known as the “Predators” have been visiting Earth for thousands of years — a concept featured in various “Predator” movies, spin-off comics and the like was examined.
From this, writer Patrick Aison and director Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) developed an original screenplay about the first contact between predators and their human prey in America.
About “Prey”: A YA survival story with an R-rated sci-fi twist
The story takes place in 1717, somewhere in the Great Plains region, which today spans the United States and Canada. There, the Comanche Nation lives amidst expansive grasslands and mountain forests. The film is told from the perspective of Naru (Amber Midthunder from FX’s “Legion” ), a teenage Comanche girl who shows promise as a healer but is single-mindedly obsessed with proving herself as a slayer. (Her older brother is an experienced and highly respected hunter, so that has a lot to do with it.)
(LR): Dakota Beavers as Taabe and Amber Midthunder as Naru in PREY from 20th Century Studios, exclusively on Hulu. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All rights reserved.
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Both Taabe (the brother in question, played by Dakota Beavers) and their mother Aruka (Michelle Thrush) are frankly fed up with Naru getting in the way on hunting expeditions. It’s time, they tell her, to stop chasing this foolish dream.
But then Naru discovers a mysterious lightning bolt in the trees. She interprets this as a sign and runs off to tell Taabe that she saw the mythical Thunderbird common in Native American folklore. He dismisses her warning, but his indifference only strengthens Naru’s resolve, and she sneaks out that night to capture the creature herself. What follows is an R-rated take on a YA survival novel (think Gary Paulson’s “Hatchet”) combined with a sci-fi action narrative built around a series of car chases. An appearance by some hostile French trappers helps fill out the feature-length story, as does a stretch of quicksand and a field full of skinned buffalo. But for the most part, “Prey” is an elemental David and Goliath tale, one that pits bows and arrows against high-tech weaponry and human ingenuity against extraterrestrial arrogance.
Naru’s story is a classic underdog tale. But while the character dynamic in the story – the stubborn younger sister, the doubting older brother – is nothing new, it is nonetheless effective, both as a standalone story and as part of the broader “Predator” mythology. That’s typical of Prey as a whole: the film is well thought out in every way, from its portrayal of Comanche culture, medicine and language – the film is mostly in English with a few Comanche touches, but it’s fully Comanche -Dub will be available on Hulu – to enact his fight scenes, which are only shaky enough to hide the rough edges while still allowing the viewer to follow what’s happening.
See “Prey” for: Spine-splitting, ax-throwing action
Dane DiLiegro as the Predator in PREY from 20th Century Studios, exclusively on Hulu. Photo by David Bukach. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All rights reserved.
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“Prey” is downright driving in the second half, when the Predator, played by 6’1″ former basketball player Dane DiLiegro, finally shows himself and the spine-smashing ax throwing action really gets going. “If it bleeds, we can kill it,” Taabe growls at one point, a hard-hitting action movie slogan like never before. Director Trachtenberg is particularly good at creating imagery that balances the Comanche way of life with the Predator’s futuristic shenanigans, finding moments of beauty in splatters of glowing green blood and laser sights focused on war-painted foreheads.
The weaknesses in “Prey” are not the fault of the filmmakers – or of Midthunder, who gives her all in both the physical and emotional aspects of her performance. The problem here is the limited VFX budget, which is a problem for a film packed with non-stop confrontations between flesh and blood actors and CGI adversaries. This isn’t such a big deal when it comes to the CGI flourishes on the Predator itself; If an invisibility effect doesn’t look completely realistic, that’s okay because, well, it’s not supposed to. It’s more of a problem in scenes where characters fight CGI animals like bears, snakes, and wolves, none of which can pass as real.
Amber Midthunder as Naru and Dane DiLiegro as Predator in PREY from 20th Century Studios, exclusively on Hulu. Photo by David Bukach. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All rights reserved.
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Trachtenberg adds production value to “Prey” with drone footage of mountain streams and rolling prairies, but these only emphasize the uncanny valley between the actual natural world and the make-believe world rendered for the film. It’s a frustrating and unnecessary Achilles’ heel for a film that otherwise does everything right, and while it doesn’t spoil the experience, it does make it a little cheaper.
Given Hollywood’s dismal track record of greenlighting original ideas — or even original takeovers of established franchises, as we see here — it’s perhaps a wonder Prey was even made. But it’s hard not to wonder what might have been if 20th Century Studios had opened up their wallets just a little wider and given “Prey” the support (and theatrical release) that solid filmmaking like this deserves.
Rated R. 99 minutes. D: Dan Trachtenberg. With: Amber MiddonnerDakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro, Stormee Kipp, Michelle choke, Julian Black Antelope. Streaming on Hulu on August 5th.
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About the author: Katie Rife is a film critic, programmer and former senior writer of The AV Club. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Vulture and Indiewire, among others.
Airplane Sounds for Sleeping or Studying: Airplane White Noise (2018): OK, we’re adding another recommendation under this one as well. But if you’re just a wee bit freaked out by things that happen at night, consider letting the tranquil journey of Relaxing Airways Flight #ZZZ lull you into a nap without fear of jumping. That’s all – two hours of an animated airplane rolling through the clouds doing nothing but making a pleasant “Whhrrrrm” sound. You are welcome! 120 minutes. Classification TV-G. To you: Relaxing white noise. “Airplane Sounds for Sleeping or Studying: White Noise from Airplanes” streams for free on Tubi — Get the app.
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Jaw (1975) Dive into the essence of the predator-prey dynamic with one of the awesome creature features. The first blockbuster is still one of the best of its kind, a triumph of storytelling and ingenuity that really packs a punch. “Jaws” might be the Swiss army knife of movies – it works for everything. Looking for a comedy? An action movie? A dramatic character study? Kind of a “just three guys on an impossible mission” kind of thing? Or maybe you’re in the mood for one of the most iconic film scores of all time, a massive shark named Bruce and a boatload of (pun intended) great performances? Try this Steven Spielberg classic. It’s a film for all seasons (but especially summer). Rated PG. 123 minutes. To you: Steven Spielberg. With: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton.
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How to see “loot”.
“Prey” can be found in the woods of Hulu starting August 5th. It is currently not available in cinemas.
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