Prey review: Pared-down Predator prequel works a treat
The new film – set in the Comanche nation in 1719 – does away with convoluted plot contrivances and is all the better for it.
In the years since Predator was released back in 1987, there have been several attempts to create a sequel that lived up to the adrenaline rush of the first film. Predator 2, Predators, and The Predator have all come and gone – in addition to two installments in the Alien vs Predator franchise – without ever really coming close to matching the thrill of the Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring original. You'd be forgiven, then, for not having particularly high expectations of 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg's new prequel Prey – especially given it's being rather unceremoniously dumped straight to streaming (on Disney Plus in the UK).
But Prey – which stars Legion's Amber Midthunder in the lead role – is by some distance the best entry in the franchise since that first film. By applying the familiar premise to a new and original setting – specifically the Comanche nation in 1719 – but otherwise adopting a rather refreshing back-to-basics approach that does away with convoluted plot contrivances in favour of a simple, pared-down narrative, the film overwhelmingly succeeds. It's a consistently engaging, edge-of-your-seat affair – with a brilliant lead performance, several terrific action sequences, and a well-judged emotional throughline.
The central figure in the story is Naru (Midthunder), a skilled warrior who is constantly undermined by the male members of her tribe. Despite her clear expertise, none of her companions are willing to accept that she should join them on their hunting mission, but join them she does – and just as well, it turns out. While the men think they're going to encounter nothing more dangerous than a mountain lion on their travels – a difficult task, but by no means beyond their capabilities – Naru is the only one to clock that something far more deadly is in their midst. That something, it's no spoiler to say, is the Predator – a highly evolved, extremely vicious extra-terrestrial who has come to Earth for the very first time to hunt humans for sport.
And so, after we witness the Predator brutally dispatch a number of smaller creatures – look away, animal lovers – the battle begins. Much of the action in the middle section pitches Naru directly against the beast, such that it essentially becomes a two-hander – eventually building up to a bigger showdown when some French-speaking fur-trappers get caught up in the carnage. The whole thing is perfectly paced, taking its time to build up the tension rather than front-loading massive action set-pieces – and Midthunder is a magnetic presence throughout, aided by her loveable dog sidekick.
Even if the narrative is straightforward, Prey's setting allows it to really stand out when compared to other films in the franchise. A huge amount of research went into authentically recreating the historical period and accurately portraying the Comanche nation, and the result is something that feels genuinely unique. It's also tremendous fun to see the Predator go up against other large animals – even if some of the CGI is a little unconvincing in these sections – while it's interesting to see a battle against the beast that uses rather primitive weapons, a far cry from the barrage of machine gunfire we've seen it face in the past.
It also helps that the film looks consistently brilliant from start to finish. The whole shoot was done using only natural light, and just like the first Predator film it unfolds entirely in outdoor, natural locations – which helps to give it that wild, feral quality that so defined the original. There's also some wonderfully gruesome imagery – including an entire field's worth of massacred buffalos – not to mention some brilliantly inventive kills, which does a lot to ensure the film feels appropriately nasty and by no means a sanitised version of the Predator story.
Fans of the franchise will also be delighted to see several allusions to other films in the series – whether that be set pieces that serve as parallels to previous scenes or familiar lines of dialogue, and thankfully these moments of homage never feel too shoe-horned in. If there is an issue, it's that some of the dialogue can be a little ropey at times, but for the most part that doesn't present too much of an issue, especially given how engrossing the action is.
It's just a shame, really, that the film is bypassing a cinema release – it's a brilliant piece of entertainment that revitalises the Predator franchise, and it deserves to be seen on a big screen.
Prey is available on Disney Plus from Friday 5th August 2022 – sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 a year now. Check out more of our Movies coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.
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