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Sci-fi movie ‘Prey’ – laser-focused survival action meets respectful representation
‘Prey’ proves that good, respectful representation enriches and improves genre fare, re-engaging interest from viewers. While perhaps a little too lean and straightforward, it delivers a potent and to-the-point survival action experience built on a foundation of smart and clearly well-thought-out decisions.
Looking back at it now, 1987’s Predator managed to capture lightning in a bottle. An R-rated mix of action, science fiction, horror and survival, it spawned a franchise largely thanks to its strong central concept: a hulking, technologically advanced alien species travels across space looking for worthy opponents – typically apex predators – to test their hunting and combat prowess against. It’s just that, following the Arnold Schwarzenegger original, the other Predator films, including two big-screen Alien vs Predator crossovers, were just okay (at best).
Which brings us to direct sequel number four, straight-to-streaming release Prey. How do you freshen up a formula that has only been intermittently successful and satisfying to date? The answer is that you turn backwards. Unlike 2018’s The Predator, though, you don’t stop at the 1980s for your (tonal) inspiration. You leap further back – more than 300 years in fact – and tap into a single nugget of series lore: Predators have been coming to Earth for centuries.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that audiences don’t need to be familiar with the Predator franchise to enjoy the prequel Prey. The disassociated title even drives home that point. No prior knowledge is required, though series staples are present to please fans – like the Predator’s cloaking device, fondness for moving along tree tops, and use of thermal imaging for targeting. Also included are a certain item and minor character that have appeared in other Predator media.
Whether you’re familiar with the Predator series or not, Prey is a potent and to-the-point survival action experience, elevated by a unique premise that mixes history and sci-fi, plus a greater underdog focus that emotionally engages the viewer. There’s an actual dog too – which behaves like a real, well-trained canine – if that sweetens the deal.
Instead of macho commandos, cops and Special Forces operatives, Prey’s protagonist is a young Comanche woman who lives in the northern Great Plains in 1719 with her tribe. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a skilled healer and exceptional tracker, but she dreams of stepping outside her culture’s prescribed gender roles and becoming a hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). With her sharpened hatchet and dog companion Sarii, Naru sets out to do just that. But even before she encounters the alien, hers is a world filled with dangers, ranging from animal encounters and hazardous terrain, to newly arrived Europeans with their dismissive attitudes and brutal traps.
In a refreshing change for so much contemporary genre fare, 10 Cloverfield Lane filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg has adopted a “show don’t tell” approach in Prey. Long stretches of quiet are absolutely fine in the movie, which refuses to over-explain things to the audience. You’re left to put the pieces together yourself, just as you’re positioned to observe the everyday goings-on of traditional Comanche life, shown with immense attention to detail.
If you remember Prey for anything, it should be its brilliant decision to tell a Predator film from the perspective of indigenous people. It delivers respectful and informed representation far beyond what we’ve seen in Hollywood entertainment in general, let alone a blockbuster, kinda far-fetched man vs monster movie. Prey is a prime example of how exploring beyond familiar settings can re-energise a franchise and engross viewers.
Similarly, kudos must go to the choice of Midthunder’s Naru as Prey’s main character. Joining the ranks of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, Naru is strong-willed, shrewd and resourceful. While she’s a formidable warrior, she never slips into ice-cold, invulnerable mode. She’s always warm, emotive and relatable. And, importantly, Naru embarks on her quest for herself, to prove what she is capable of (though she does inspire others, including the audience). She’s the rare heroine who isn’t forced into a maternal stand-in role, out to protect or rescue a child.
Naru is also central to many of the film’s action scenes, which incorporate expert guidance on Comanche movement and combat tactics. Prey doesn’t skimp on the CGI – which remains key to realising the camouflaged Predator – but you’re more likely to recall the film later for its visceral and coherent fight choreography.
Prey is a satisfying action movie built on a foundation of smart, interesting and clearly well-thought-out decisions. Included among these is how Predators have clearly undergone technological evolution like our own. Media almost always treat alien technology as advanced but static. However, Prey acknowledges that just like the difference between a conquistador and a Delta Force operative, a Predator arriving on Earth in the 1700s would be equipped very differently from one in our early 21st century. A lot can happen in 300 years, on Earth and off.
All this praise aside, ultimately it still feels like something is lacking in Prey. It’s hard to identify what it is exactly, but it may be that the film is so lean – so pared to the bone – that it’s missing the flesh that would have taken its flavour to the next level. Still, Prey is a welcome surprise and accomplishment. Like the first Predator, its reputation is probably going to improve with time. DM/ML
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com. Prey is available in South Africa on Disney+ and on Hulu abroad.
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