Hollywood rarely leaves hit I.P. dormant for long, and that is especially true of the horror genre, in which even the most minor of hits can quickly be turned into full-blown franchises. After grossing $98 million on a budget of around $16 million it was all but assured that 20th Century Fox would greenlight a sequel to 1987’s Predator. Predator 2 failed to repeat the original’s success, but 20 years later the series returned with Predators and then 2018’s The Predator, both of which were moderate hits while not being able to capture what made the first so beloved among genre fans, with the last installment in particular seemingly confused about what a Predator movie should even be. But that track record is not enough to keep a good franchise down, and so the now Disney-controlled 20th Century Studios ordered up a new prequel titled Prey, and much to everyone’s surprise it’s actually really good.
We are taken all the way back to 1719 in America’s Great Plains, where we meet Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman and her dog Sarii (Coco). Despite being trained as a healer, she wants nothing more than to become a hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) and repeatedly tries to convince him to help her prove herself. When one of the tribe’s hunters is taken by a mountain lion, she sneaks her way into the rescue party and is allowed to stay after the others are convinced by her brother. They find the missing hunter alive but badly wounded and so fashion a stretcher to carry him and head back towards camp, with Taabe remaining behind to hunt the cougar.
After finding highly unsual tracks and a skinned rattlesnake, Naru suspects there is something more dangerous lurking in the woods and so heads back to warn her brother. But of course, no one believes her and after the mountain lion is killed she feels the need to go out on her own to find whatever else is out there, unaware that it is one of the alien Predators (Dane DiLiegro), with technology that far outstrips anything available at the time including the ability to appear invisible. When she finally encounters it, she and everyone else in the woods will find themselves in an intense fight for survival.
The decision to take the series so far backward in time turns out to be a good one that injects some much-needed creativity to the action while also returning the series to its roots. Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) and writer Patrick Aison make several smart decisions with the story, especially by including repeated allusions to the very nature of predator / prey relationships such as a clever food-chain sequence involving an insect, a mouse, and the aforementioned snake. Beavers is excellent as brother Taabe, and American Dingo Coco immediately steals viewers’ hearts, but this is first and foremost Ms. Midthunder’s movie and she carries it well, absolutely nailing a character that will live on in genre history. The general gist of the plot is pretty simple, but the smart casting and characterization, striking cinematography by Jeff Cutter, thrilling action sequences, and a good handle on how to generate genuine moments of suspense all help elevate it to something truly special. If these types of movies are your thing (and maybe even if they aren’t), you don’t want to miss this one. ★★★★★
rated r for strong bloody violence.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor