The Predator Travels to the 18th Century (and Hulu) for More Kills and Thrills
DIRECTOR: DAN TRACHTENBERG/2022
Who is the predator and who is the prey? You may finish the newest Predator sequel unsure.
In Prey, our heroine is Naru (Amber Midthunder), a Comanche living on the Great Plains in the early 1700s. She aspires to survive through her tribe’s kühtaamia right-of-passage and be recognized within the boys’ club of hunters. Her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) is supportive but skeptical—why does she need to prove herself as a warrior when she can be a healer? When a new threat appears near their home, it’s an opportunity for a kühtaamia, but she is the only one who believes this creature might be something more the usual dangers they face.
Naru begins hunting the Predator (Dane DiLiegro) faster than Arnold Schwarzenegger does in the 1987 macho action movie. Instead of building tension by teasing who will be offed next and making you guess whether Carl Weathers will survive to the credits, Naru is on the offensive almost from the start, which is her greatest advantage aside from her loyal dog Sarii (a very good girl named Coco). She’s fighting traditional 18th century threats (both man and animal) on her journey, and this Predator has all the gadgets Arnold faced, plus a few toys the limited computer graphics of the ‘80s couldn’t create.
Not every franchise can be so malleable to create standalone stories, but Prey makes me wish they could. Remember when the Marvel Cinematic Universe traveled back to World War II for a one-off adventure with Captain America? The time-hopping, universe-crossing Avengers have created a lot of fun in the last 15 years, but the threads of Phase 4 are becoming knotty with all of the powers, storylines, and TV shows to keep track of. (Dear me, why so many TV shows?) I watched the original Predator on a whim a few weeks ago, and even that viewing wasn’t necessary to follow Prey, though it did help me appreciate modern innovations on that source material. At 99 minutes, it’s shorter than Arnold’s adventure, and I was never lost even without seeing Predator 2, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Predators, or The Predator. You can’t go into many seventh chapters blind, but Prey proves sometimes you can Tokyo Drift and come out on top.
I can only speculate that lack of an “event” nature is why this sequel was shoved to Hulu, or maybe it was because the cast is mostly unknown and the the writer and director have relatively short IMDb pages. But the Western landscapes would have bloomed on a giant screen and the Predator’s novel (and gross) ways of killing his victims would get loud audience reactions—this is nobody’s tax write-down streaming movie. Director Dan Trachtenberg builds suspense just as well as he did in 10 Cloverfield Lane (my almost-favorite movie of 2016), and he and writer Patrick Aison find more layers to Naru and her battles than necessary to sustain a horror-adjacent action flick.
Between the Predator’s kills, we see Earth-bound predators kill. A snake eats a mouse who just ate an ant, and the Comanches hunt the beasts that stalk their community. Naru’s hair hangs in her face like the Predator’s dreadlock-like head quills, and she tosses rabbits over her shoulder like he wears his victims’ skulls. Like in 1987, this story muses on the competition between nature and technology, but the deeper Naru goes into the woods, the blurrier her differences with the Predator become. (Mild spoiler alert: It culminates in her baiting the Predator in a grayer area of morality than you might expect.) So who is the predator and who is the prey? The beauty of Prey—along with its top-notch thrills—is it doesn’t feel the need to answer every question it asks.