Preliminary Review: A Predator movie from the ground up, streaming with style
Before Disney bought 20th Century Fox in 2017, the studio has become known as a purveyor of enduring genre films such as the Alien, Predator, and X-Men series – and also as an intervention cost-cutting tool, defined by its willingness set key action segments in the common parking lots and Canadian forests. (See Darkest thoughts, Elektraor X-Men: Last Stand, among many others, example of Fox’s aesthetic at its worst.) These reputations are not mutually exclusive; sometimes a Fox movie strikes a pleasant balance between muscular thrills and relative limitations, like Werewolvesa smaller scale superhero movie using the original, jungle setting.
Prey is Fox’s latest entry to capture both sides of that Fox history, while also giving a nod toward the studio’s new identity as the Disney-owned content powerhouse for Hulu. The latest entry in the Predator series that began in 1987 is a stripped-down version of the usual sci-fi scavenger hunt, going straight to Hulu without the need to go to the cinema first.
At first glance, it makes sense to send a new Predator movie directly to streaming. Like so many R-rated sci-fi series, this series hasn’t been popular for years. 2010 Carnivores and 2018 Hunter proved the series still had loyal fans, but also proved a relatively small audience. Prey efforts to bring the series back to its roots further than the movies did – not the other Predator The movies have strayed particularly far from the formula of giant, masked, face-less alien monsters that reliably hunt the last humans against.
However, there is an admirable minimalism in the idea of a prequel going back in time where the previous characters of the series won’t be born for hundreds of years. Prey Set in North America’s Great Plains in 1719, it follows Naru (Amber Midthunder), a desperate young Comanche woman who undergoes ritual training to become a hunter for her tribe. Her family and loved ones may predictably disagree about her readiness for this mission, encouraging her to help her people in other ways. But when a series of mysterious signs indicate a strange creature is stalking their territory, only Naru is willing to hunt it down.
PreyThe film’s early scenes flirt with minimalism without fully committing to it. Naru trains herself in solitude with a specially crafted weapon – a throwing ax she can obtain by tying a rope – and she fulfills her tribal duty with the others. Your trusted dog friend. Meanwhile, an 18th-century Predator comes to Earth and explores the Great Plains, mainly by observing smaller predators in action, then takes them out. (It seems easy enough to pick an 8-foot alien with technology that is out of this world, but it’s clear that this is the Predator equivalent of a tourist stopping by local restaurants.) Finally, the two roads intersect more directly.
Before that inevitable clash, Prey give in to some less adventurous audiences. Instead of making full use of the Comanche language, or simply avoiding dialogue whenever possible, the native characters speak mostly in English, in the vernacular sounding suspiciously like the editors. Contemporary dramatists are tiptoeing because they are not able (or unwilling) to surmise something older and less immediately familiar. Here’s part of a larger pattern: Whenever the film has a chance to hold onto a scene or even a moment that’s a bit lyrical or mysterious, Director and co-writer Dan Trachtenberg tend to cut themselves short. He may be out there in the woods, but he doesn’t exactly communicate with Terrence Malick’s spirit.
Trachtenberg, who made the same franchise extension 10 Cloverfield Lanethere is one important thing to offer Prey: effective. This is a movie about a young girl on her way to collide with a spineless alien guy in a cool skull mask. Other members of the Naru tribe are there to protest and/or become fodder for the Predator. A group of fur traders who arrived late also offered some huntable bodies for sale. Trachtenberg seeks to effectively represent their short, short lives with flourish: He sets the action with shots from above, sometimes from afar from above to capture field set-up shots. and sometimes give the camera just enough space for a full view of obstacles like a particularly sticky mud pit.
He also makes the best use of Predator’s neon green bloodline, as an accent color against the more muted, natural tones in the film’s setting. The action itself is filmed with clarity and clarity. One shot of Naru against the fur traders is particularly impressive, as it has nothing to do with the film’s iconic monster.
Both strengths and weaknesses of Prey put a lot of pressure on Midthunder, playing the only person in the movie who wasn’t there just for the sake of narration. She delivers a charismatic athletic performance, appearing onscreen with expressive, watchful eyes accentuated by tribal makeup. What makes her different from the heroes of the past Carnivores the film is shown just before the dialogue, when her brother questions her desire to prove herself: “You want to hunt something that is hunting you?”
He still hadn’t talked about the Predator at the time, but he might as well. When the time comes, Naru must actively search for the aliens, who never consider her an opponent worthy of being hunted. Like the others, the Predator underestimates Naru, keeping an eye out for less sharp, less worthy prey. The simplicity of “women can kill as well as men” risked turning Naru into a flesh-eating, bloodthirsty girl battling the Predator, but Midthunder’s pointless performance prevented that from happening.
It would be very easy to overwrite Prey because it was a live stream movie that could have passed the set on the big screen. It’s as good as the other Carnivores movie, rather than a game-changing reveal. However, it’s a shame that Disney hasn’t opted for simultaneous theatrical and streaming releases, as this August has been a relatively scarce month for wide releases. This movie would make good food for summer driving, following in the tradition of some recent non-Fox woman-versus-nature features like Collect information or The Shallows.
Summer entertainment really works like a fun B-movie, which is simply not an area the modern version of Big Disney often explores. It’s perhaps too much to hope that the Fox acquisition will diversify the types of movies Disney makes, rather than simply removing another set of movies from the release schedule.
Maybe that’s why Prey feel no shame, even though it theoretically represents everything tedious and immoral about filmmaking in major studios: a franchise extension traded from a subsidiary subsidiary after subsidiary, designed to evoke nostalgia and inspire Easter egg hunts. (Hint: Besides the mandatory Carnivores dialogue, related to Predator 2 afoot, too.) Trachtenberg’s film offers the elemental appeal of watching sci-fi/horror strangely bend the boundaries of the conflict between man and nature. Prey do not worship the past – do not worship its country, studio, genre or franchise. But it has a deep understanding of its place in all that history.
Prey premieres on Hulu on August 5.