Prey (2022) juxtaposes modern storytelling that places a badass female lead and her fight for rights with an action-packed, niftily executed game of survival. Easily one of the best reboots of any franchise.
Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger, begrimed with mud and roughed up by the jungle, faced the death-bringing extraterrestrial in Predator (1987), the creature was notoriously battered in every subsequent movie. Literally – as each one of the huntings ended up with severed limbs and a trail of fluorescent blood – and metaphorically. Although critics didn’t appreciate John McTiernan’s flick upon its premiere, Predator (1987) cultivated the status of a masterpiece, sprouting several sequels and crossovers with another murderous alien. Most of these entries were subpar compared to the original movie. And after a failed attempt at reviving the Predator universe in 2018, all hope’s lost.
It comes as no surprise that when Dan Trachtenberg revealed Prey (2022), the old flame reignited. Hardly anyone could expect anything more than B-movie popcorn entertainment. Even farther from any forecasted scenario was a movie that would end up among the best horrors of 2022.
Trachtenberg carefully plotted the comeback of Predator, and the key to the success of Prey (2022) is the cherry-picked setting. The heroes of this story are not hired guns or foul-mouthed cops, but the indigenous people of America – natural-born hunters who also happened to be ahead of the mass genocide (hinted in the film). Experts in the field of throwing spears and tomahawks, the Comanches accidentally cross paths with the outer-space creature that lands somewhere in the forest nearby.
Judging by the choices made in 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), Dan Trachtenberg prefers strong female characters as leads, and the director couldn’t select a more souped-up candidate than Amber Midthunder. Midthunder plays Naru, a callow wannabee warrior whose traditional place in the tribe remains far from crouching in the wilderness.
Naru isn’t the Mary Sue that so often appears in films these days. On the contrary, she’s lame-duck at most of her early attempts to be on par with her male counterparts. Midthunder needs very little dialogue to mold a character made of flesh and bone, as well as high stakes in the game. Apart from proving herself to the tribe, Naru answers the call to protect it – even if her own brothers and sisters fail to hear that call.
Naru’s quest secures a relatable matter at the heart of Prey (2022), but that takes a bit of time to unfold. The Predator arrives on the planet to find a worthy opponent, and before the alien hunter skirmishes with any of the Comanches, several terrene creatures die along the way. These scenes aren’t that particularly exciting though, and Trachtenberg may take a few minutes too much to explain the obvious. After all, nobody tunes into a Predator movie to watch a quasi-Discovery Channel piece, right?
Luckily, Trachtenberg manages to keep the momentum going with the help of DP Jeff Cutter. Prey (2022) surely looks the part, thanks to the panoramic shots of the plains ruled by the Comanche Nation. Cutter knows the drill – shots of the endless, ablaze landscapes establish a stark contrast with dark groves and nocturnal pursuits. Before the hunt begins, we partake in terrain scouting and ritualistic preparations. That’s a smart direction, because we, although just spectating, learn the ins and outs of the arena. Part of what makes Prey (2022) different from other flicks about humans fighting off a seemingly untameable beast is the learning curve that enables Naru to outsmart the opponent. And Trachtenberg’s methodological approach guarantees the effect.
As far as the main attraction of the story goes, the tribal mask and primeval characterization of the Predator imbues the creature with something far more visceral than in any of his previous incarnations. Predator matches the ferocious rage of the Comanches; he’s berserk, a forceful entity that wreaks havoc in a gory fashion. In a riveting scene in which the extraterrestrial leaves the blood-soaked ground after a clash with French-speaking frontiermen, every move strikes as calculated and filled with briskly fun for the audience.
Perhaps the best thing about Prey (2022) is that the main build-up to the duel between Naru and the Predator rarely loses any of the fuel. Naru’s a vehement creature on her own, and Midthunder captures that bestial nature, meanwhile, the alien excels in the art of carnage and one can hardly see how he’s supposed to lose. At the same time, we want her to win, and that likability is what neither of the leads captured since Arnold Schwarzenegger. For what it’s worth, I’d be down to see Naru take on an entire Yautja army, accompanied by Sarah Schachner’s soul-stirring score and executed with the same directorial precision.