Hulu! Dan Trachtenberg! 20th Century Fox! You son of a bitch! Someone’s been pushing around the right pencils and making the correct moves because THIS is emphatically more like it.
It’s no secret that the Predator franchise has lost its way from the grizzled, musclebound origins that made it a household name back in 1987. The first film is a classic among classics; a rough and tumble exercise in orgasmic violence, thick jungle terrain, addictive one-liners, sci-fi pulsation, and unapologetic machismo. I love it, you love it, and it’s etched in the thrawlls of blockbuster cinema forever. Predator 2 (1990) is a dirty, grimy, sweaty, gory, and even harsher successor to the original that remains underappreciated but just as awesome. I’m literally perspiring just typing about it. So Sweaty. And while our favorite extraterrestrial hunters have an extensive history with novels, video games, and comic books, (They’ve tangled with the likes of Batman, Superman, The JLA, Tarzan, Judge Dredd, and….Archie?!?) unfortunately the last four cinematic entries in the franchise have been met with mixed results, recognition, criticisms, and downright hatred of the highest caliber. Especially hatred in regards to the two crossover films involving everyone’s favorite bitchy, acid-spitting xenomorphs.
Alien vs Predator (2004) and Alien vs. Predator Requiem (2007) were major disappointments at best and a ginormous stain on this franchise, the Alien franchise, and the concept of crossovers at worst. I mean, a sub-genre that’s literally supposed to be the best of BOTH conceptualized worlds, became the bane of them instead. So much so we haven’t had many crossovers since those unmitigated failures. And there’s tons…and I mean TONS of crossover stories that would blow audiences’ socks off, but american studios are now extremely hesitant to even try, unless it’s Godzilla vs. Kong (2021). Yet that’s been done already so it was a no brainer given the direction of that particular franchise. But I digress. In short, the predators have had a tumultuous road when it comes to cinematic offerings. So when the news surfaced of another installment being not only made but dropped onto a streaming service, skepticality was understandably rampant. Well GET TO DA CHOPPA and low and behold because Prey (2022) is exactly the kind of addition this institution yearned for — A bold, rejuvenating, no-nonsense return to the basics of what made audiences fall in love with this saga mixed with contemporary sensibilities. Not to mention another welcomed return of the suspense, lethality, and methodology of our alien hunters and those unlucky enough to become a part of their glorious pursuit.
This time around we journey way back to the year 1719, in the Northern Great Plains region of the United States. A young comanche indian woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder in a badass, career-making performance) dreams of becoming a hunter as a rite of passage for her tribe, despite the fact that women normally only tend to matters within the village. Taabe (An equally solid Dakota Beavers), Naru’s brother, is already an established warrior who is hesitant towards his sister’s ambitions while others scoff and even downplay her incredible skills as a tracker and a healer. Determined to prove everyone wrong, Naru, with her trusted dog Sarii (Spunky and adorable Coco), treks into the forest to find a mountain lion who injured one of her people. It isn’t long before she stumbles upon giant mysterious tracks, while also discovering skinned and mutilated corpses of animals. Soon the woman comes to the shocking realization that a “monster” is lurking in the area, hunting various species it deems as threats, while collecting trophies of its kills. Now, a determined Naru, Taabe, and the rest of the tribe must do everything they can to stop this creature before it destroys them all. Lions, bears, indians, arrows, frenchmen, and the hunt of one ugly muthafucka ensues.
Right off the bat, director Dan Trachtenberg of 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) fame, moves this story along at a brisk pace, establishing the time period, characters and utilizing the forest terrain and landscape in presenting this violent and straightforward tale. The backdrop is vast, unending and effectively used here in doing a majority of the heavy lifting when it comes to many of the sequences and moments throughout, crafting a beautiful yet unknown atmosphere. Kudos to cinematographer Jeff Cutter on his end because it’s zero doubt the film wouldn’t have been as authentically impactful without it. If anything, it gave off shades of The Revenant (2015), The Ritual (2017), and even the guerrilla filmmaking aspects of The Head Hunter (2018), just to gauge an idea of how this presentation worked.
And speaking of authenticity, the Comanche indian representation in this feature is also top-notch, not just with the costumes either. Turns out the cast is full of Native American and First Nation actors, who went through a rigorous boot camp in order to help transform them into the warriors and tribesmen we see before us. Also both english and comanche dialogue are featured throughout the film, but a full Comanche language version and English version of the film are available to watch. And while the English version is fantastic, it’s the EXTRA oomph of the Comanche version that truly showcases the cultural significance of this film. It’s the first to ever do it in this manner. And hopefully it won’t be the last.
And now that we’ve got the technical aspects out of the way, how’s the violence? How’s the effects? And where does this rank in the franchise? Truth be told the violent, action-packed moments have never been more savage, but this time around the bloodshed is surprisingly purposeful. There’s not a lot of unnecessary fodder as every death plays a part in the progression of the story and tension as well as the build-up towards the final act, which is both remarkably thrilling and a perfect nod to what’s come before. Ironically, our titular Predator, whose overall practical design is more barbaric while incorporating the technologically advanced weaponry, is treated as a full-fledge character in this, taking various turns in fleshing out his skill and drive as well as his strengths and weaknesses. There’s times audiences can undoubtedly root for him as much as the human protagonists, which really proves how much the creators nailed the nuances and nobility of the species. So major kudos there.
As far as the effects go they’re mostly sensational, with only a few moments being a smidge iffy but nothing that damages the experience. Now, where this feature ranks in the overall franchise, well that’s going to be up for a whirlwind of debate amongst the lovers and casuals of the saga. (Not to mention those who LOATHED this whole concept from the beginning because Oh-No! diversity and representation BAD!) But for this review I’ll implicitly state this is the best chapter to arrive in a very long time. Its overall presentation provided a breath of fresh air desperately needed by executing a new tale in a grounded yet authentically rich fashion. From the grand locales and strong effects to wonderful cast and pulse-pounding intensity, this felt like a legitimate Predator film instead of a feeble attempt in masquerading as one. It definitely has time to bleed and silence a few of the doubters who believe the glory days of this institution are long gone. Well I’m ecstatic to report that is FAR from the case. Now, we’ll just have to see what comes next out of this. My guess? Another sequel that drops predators in another time period. Maybe Feudal Japan? World War II? The Golden Age of Piracy? The Iraqi War? Who knows. Skies the limit at this point.
But one thing’s for certain, this is a marvelous hunt worth seeking out. So do that. And Stick around.
Review written by Marcus Wiltuner