Trachtenberg not only understood what made the original 1987 film so great, but he finally broke the code on how to actually tell a good story in that universe.
Prey is the fifth instalment in the franchise and a prequel to the original 1987 film. Set in 1718 in the Great Plains of North America, the film told the coming-of-age story of Naru, a young Native American girl of the Comanche tribe.
Much like the original, Prey scaled things down a notch. This was not just another retread of the first film. The entire world was not at stake here, which was a fresh change of pace for a big budget Hollywood film. Breaking away from even more modern trends, the entire runtime of the film was one hour and 40 minutes including credits, and contained no post credit scenes.
Unlike the sequels: Nimród Antal's Predators (2010) and Shane Black's The Predator (2018), it did not try to one up the original Predator by showing a bigger badder version of the alien impervious to weapons until the plot demanded otherwise. And in a startling turn of self-awareness, it did not try to copy Marvel's action-comedy formula either.
Prey took itself very seriously and told a fresh tale of the time when the Predator first visited Earth.
Naru, who was being trained as a healer for the tribe, dreamt of becoming a hunter. The story was set into motion after a member of her tribe was attacked and taken by a mountain lion. She accompanied her brother's search party to find him. However, in their quest, Naru found unusual tracks next to a skinned rattlesnake. She believed there was something out there in the forest far more dangerous than a mountain lion. She began to investigate what could have done this which unknowingly led her to the extra-terrestrial hunter.
Right off the bat, the film did a great job of showing and not telling. In fact there was very little dialogue in this movie, it did not get bogged down by exposition dumps or felt the need to give extensive backstories for its characters. The premise was simple and it told its story through beautiful visuals.
The film included stunning wide shots of the environment, came down very close personal during the more intense action/suspense moments, and had just the perfect colour palette to set the tone of the film. The cinematography was almost perfect; I say almost because at times it would pan away from gore. This was not a PG-13 film, there were plenty of creative kills, blood and guts in the movie. It truly was a mystery why the film sometimes failed to commit to this, and double down on it just moments later.
The Predator model was stunning and scary to look at. His personality was also quite ruthless. This Predator did not hesitate to get very close to its prey, often not relying on the many high-tech weapons the hunters have in their arsenal. Instead he preferred hand to hand combat on most occasions. However, when the weapons did come out it was just so fascinating to look at! As the film was set 100 years prior to the original, the weapons appeared quite primitive to the ones used by the Predator in the first.
Hollywood is doing a great deal to cater to the 'woke' community as of late, and as a result, portrayals of strong female leads are almost superhuman in most films. Gone are the days of Ripley from the Alien franchise where the protagonist actually had any kind of weakness. But Amber Midthunder as Naru had a somewhat believable character arc. You actually saw her train in the film, which would explain some of the abilities he had. But a girl, who probably weighs about 50 kg, taking on multiple men in fights still felt quite stretched in my opinion.
Despite a slow burn during the first act of the film, Prey was a very sharp and evenly paced movie. It did a good job of reeling in its audience from the start, and keeping you invested in the characters. The experience was also heightened by a great score.
As a fan of the first two films, this movie was not without its flaws. But it did exactly what a good Predator film should, it told a story of survival, and it did so in brilliant fashion.
Prey is available for streaming on Hulu and is a must watch for fans of the franchise.