I confess, I barely remember Predator (1987). I mean, I remember the general cut and thrust… Arnie in the jungle, ‘if it bleeds, we can kill it’... all of that. I just don’t remember the details, and I don’t remember it as well as the super fans do. Weirdly, Predator 2 (1990), the one with Danny Glover, comes to mind a little easier. Maybe the city setting resonated with me more, or maybe I just caught more reruns of it on TV growing up, who knows.
My point is, I know the general ins and outs of these movies, but I’m not a die-hard fan. I’ve still yet to see the other two: Predators (2010) and The Predator (2018), or the crossover movies: Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007). By all accounts, I’m not missing much — with perhaps the exception of 2010’s Predators, which is meant to be reasonably entertaining.
Fast forward (or rewind, technically) to a few days ago when Prey (2022) dropped on Disney+ (Hulu in the US) and within a few hours buzz on twitter began to build. I follow quite a few screenwriters and filmmakers there, and they all said good things — both about the direction, script, score and performance of the film’s lead, Amber Midthunder. So I put aside watching The Sandman TV show (review on that to come) and hit play on Prey.
And I’m happy to report, you can believe the hype. Prey is superb. It’s currently clocking in at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes which means that it’s *checks notes* more highly rated than the 1987 original (which is at 80%). And I can see why. These days doing a predator movie is tough — there are more bad ones than good ones out there, and monsters really do lose their impact when you do them to death. Yet somehow, director Dan Trachtenberg (who did 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016) found a way to inject tension and suspense back into this world and make this primal character feel relevant and impactful again.
Part of the reason was quite likely setting the story in 1719, and pitting the predator against Comanche warriors, trappers, bears and wolves. This gave the movie a real back to basics feel, akin to the original in the jungle, with the majestic landscape really playing into hunter versus hunted nature of this sort of story. In some ways it felt like I was watching The Revenant (2015), but with a tiny native girl as the lead, rather than one of world’s biggest movie stars in DiCaprio.
And speaking of the film’s lead, Amber Midthunder was quite the revelation. She slightly put me in mind of Jennifer Lawrence’s debut in Winter’s Bone (2010), in the way she held the screen, her physicality, the things she didn’t say as much as the things she did, how she acted around bigger, stronger characters (which was basically everyone). Indeed, a theme of ‘constant underestimation’ runs through this film, making it arguably the most feminist predator movie to date. Many reviews have compared her character to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the Alien series of movies, which is a fair observation. Whatever impression you get, there’s no denying Midthunder holds the screen incredibly well — I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the next few years.
As a final point, one of the most refreshing things about this movie is it clocks in at 1 hour 40 minutes. Most action movies these days seem to think they either have to have wall-to-wall action sequences (The Gray Man, I’m looking at you), or pummel us to death by way of run time (2021’s Army of the Dead was a tiresome 2hrs 28m). So hats off to Dan Trachtenberg for telling a tight story that kept me engaged, thrilled, excited and scared throughout. That’s how you do it.
I give this film 4/5 stars (although I am genuinely considering 5).