The Predator franchise is the ugly step-child of horror monster canon. Fans know about it, are aware of it, but don’t necessarily give it the credit it deserves. With the original film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the sequel with Danny Glover, a bunch of Alien vs. Predator crossover films, and an attempt at a reboot in 2018, it is the one franchise that lacks consistency. However, director Dan Trachtenberg gives the film a new edge by inserting the titular monster in an 18th-century setting to see how the people hold up against the advanced technology of the warrior creature.
Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a Comanche woman who aims to become a warrior by embarking on the “kühtaamia,” a rite of passage ritual where the hunter hunts the hunter who hunts them. Many in her tribe think she isn’t ready for the experience despite being somewhat of a skilled fighter. She gets the chance to prove herself when one of the children is taken away from her village. Naru, her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), and other young warriors aim to rescue the child. On the same day as the kidnapping, the Predator arrives. When the two cross paths, all hell breaks loose.
There are many similarities between Prey and Apocalypto, but Prey stands on its own due to its sharp storytelling and uber-strong performance from Midthunder. The goal isn’t just to kill or be killed (which, of course, the film contains a lot of graphic deaths), but there is a level of coherence and emotional intelligence that many other monster films refuse to address. At every increasing moment of this journey, Naru experiences a change in front of the camera, and it’s not just talked about in passing.
Prey is a risky venture for 20th Century and Hulu to take on. The director puts his faith in a relative newcomer to shoulder the movie. Women rarely get to be the heroes of these stories, and women of color are often left out entirely. The cast is made up of primarily indigenous actors with a narrative that revolves solely around their lived experiences. Trachtenberg took an unprecedented risk here and succeeded. Hopefully, this will set the standard for the genre at large.
There are some slight nods to other Predator films and delivers the familiar kills and thrills while also introducing a new generation to a potential new action star in Midthunder. Predator is one of those creatures that can exist at any time. They can fight and have great gadgets, but their greatest weapon is their ability to test the human spirit, which makes it ripe for further exploration.
It was the right move to debut the film on streaming (although a theatrical release would’ve been excellent), as it’s accessible for folks to watch from home.