The origin story of the Predator in the world of the Comanche Nation 300 years ago. Naru, a skilled female warrior, fights to protect her tribe against one of the first highly-evolved Predators to land on Earth.
Director Dan Trachtenberg understands creature features. Here, he is re-envisioning the Predator franchise and flipping the script with Prey (the 10 Cloverfield Lane filmmaker is also using a script from Patrick Aaison), an origin story that refreshingly focuses on the arrival of the extraterrestrial species and its matchup against an 18th-century Comanche tribe. And unique ideas are not prone to falling flat on their face, but it quickly becomes apparent that Dan Trachtenberg is a student of the action- sci-fi- horror genre itself, slowly building dread and suspense.
The humanoid alien is seen doing trophy hunting (skinning snakes and battering bears to death). It’s primarily done through trademark invisibility cloaking, heat vision perspectives, and brilliant shot-blocking from cinematographer Jeff Cutter that obscures slicing and decapitations without shying away from blood sprays. Add in the pulse-pounding score from Sarah Schachner, fully realizing sequences of accentuating terror that gradually reveals danger (like some of the best horror movies, there’s not an intentional crystal-clear look at the creature until roughly halfway in), increasingly becoming more violent and chaotically controlled.
It also helps that the Predator kills with brutal and bloody style, pitted against larger groups as the film barrels towards a supremely thrilling showdown that will most likely have one chest-beating and bursting into applause from their living rooms (you know, because Disney is dumb and anti-consumer opting against giving this great blockbuster a theatrical run in favor of boosting streaming subscribers).
Prey is a technical marvel, from the stunning landscapes, brief but detailed look at Comanche settlements, the authenticity brimming with weaponry and tracking, its modern Predator design (a mixture of bodysuits, practical effects, and CGI enhancing certain aspects of the former for a more threatening and physically imposing depiction) and its fast-paced, relentless, and escalating segments of bloodshed. It might sound similar to the tried-and-true Predator formula. Still, in practice, it comes across as wholly distinctive (viewers will also be able to go one step further by streaming the film entirely in the Comanche language, which for some inexplicable reason was not an option for critic review coverage).
Emphasized in this Comanche tribe are siblings Naru (Amber Midthunder) and Taabe (Dakota Beavers), with the former eager to prove and assert herself in hunting. Even though she has the necessary skill sets, some unspoken but blatant sexism comes into play, suggesting she stick to other duties or take on the role of a medic (another one of her specialties). While some of the dialogue from the tribespeople occasionally comes across as forced and more like schoolyard bullying than anything, it doesn’t still Naru with more drive, conviction, and resolve; all of it allows Amber Midthunder to tensely tap into that “if it bleeds, we can kill it” mentality that has always functioned as the backbone of the films.
Fortunately, Naru’s relationship with brother Taabe comes with mutual respect, even if there is a little playful sibling rivalry. Taabe still disregards some of the sister’s tactical advice and doesn’t believe her words about witnessing something far more dangerous than a lion in the wild. Naturally, this creates some internal drama as they try to rescue one of their own (no one knows what mauled him) and return to the campsite. It’s also not a spoiler to say that just about anyone that shrugs off these warnings meets a sadistically pleasant demise.
Eventually, some French trappers also come into the equation (they are more fodder for the Predator) with their plans for killing the beast. Simultaneously, the dynamic between Naru and Taabe emotionally deepens as they get on the same page for a riveting, rip-roaring survival showdown. Amber Midthunder is up to the challenge in Prey, immediately cementing herself as a must-see action heroine; she is a fierce force to be reckoned with.