Prey

prey

The well-loved Predator (1987) pitted Arnold Schwarzenegger and a cadre of tough guys against an ugly alien hunter with superior technology. After several sequels over the years, the franchise notes its 35th anniversary with Prey, an action-thriller set in 1719 among mostly a Comanche tribe as they attempt, more or less feebly, to contend with this merciless E.T. warrior. It takes Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman raised as a healer but yearning to be a hunter, and her loyal dog Sarii to defend the tribe against the Predator as well as some human predators (some French trappers).

Some have called Prey the best Predator film since the original. I may not be the best judge of that — Predator 2 (1990) eludes my memory, I fell asleep on Predators (2010), and I missed The Predator (2018) and the Alien Vs. Predator duology. But I’ll take their word for it. Sharply and succinctly directed by Dan Trachtenberg, from a meat-and-potatoes script by Patrick Aison, Prey establishes its conflict with no fuss, gives us a hero straining against the role 18th-century Comanche culture dictates for her, and doesn’t skimp on the action. It’s brisk old-school entertainment, and what it’s doing on Hulu and not on a big screen near you is beyond me.

Then again, Hulu offers the choice to view the film in a version dubbed in Comanche, which feels right. Not that there’s much chat anyway. The French trappers, mainly scum and Predator fodder, speak in French subtitled in French, so I guess it doesn’t matter what they’re saying. The one exception speaks Comanche to Naru and provides her with firepower other than her bow and her tomahawk. Why do I mention all this? I guess because the film’s setting (it was filmed in chilly Alberta, Canada) and polyglot nature reminded me of some of the better spaghetti westerns, especially those by Sergio Corbucci. 

I hasten to add Prey doesn’t share much besides aesthetics and a certain people-talking-past-each-other vibe with Corbucci. But I’m glad of any current movie that evokes him. I’m also glad to make a better acquaintance with Amber Midthunder, whom I might’ve seen in one TV show or another; here she takes the screen effortlessly and builds rapport with us immediately. Naru makes a fine no-frills heroine, though she’s made a bit too flawless. Other than the hunting training she works on by herself and doesn’t always come naturally to her, she doesn’t have a streak of impatience or something a young, energetic hero would have to unlearn. Of course, in such an action-centered movie this comes with the territory.

Naru takes some hits and losses, but her dog isn’t one of them, which is fine with me as a frequent visitor to the Does the Dog Die? website. Generally, Prey doesn’t want to bum us out too much. It’s a zippy Saturday-matinee creature feature. The apparent randomness of its setting (there is talk of setting further Predator movies in various other eras) allows for some subtext that isn’t stressed too much. What I admire most is that the film prizes Naru’s smarts above all else. Sure, she’s brave, loyal and independent, but she’s also a quick study, and she notices things about the Predator’s techniques that help keep her and others safe. She’s a great hero for this moment — not tough so much as resilient. 

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