It’s been said that, after killing their prey, a hunter should use every part of the body. The meat is obviously for feasting, the hide can be used for clothing or shelter, and the bones can be fashioned into weapons and tools. A life is taken, but it’s done so with reasonable intent. It’s an elegant trade-off for a harsh reality, that sometimes something must die for something else to live. The thing is, Prey is not a movie about hunters. It’s about Predators, and they only kill for a single goal – the spine and the skull attached to it. They want a trophy to bring back to their tribe, so that everyone may know they’re the apex in the wild. It’s this dichotomy between those who hunt with honor and those who hunt for honor that makes Prey such a force to be reckoned with. And the really, really cool death scenes don’t hurt either.
To be clear, Prey is the latest entry in the decades-old Predator franchise. Yet, somehow, it feels like something entirely brand new. A prequel set in 1719, away from the complicated timeline muddled by 2018’s The Predator, director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted an incredibly fresh take on a series that was beginning to come off as a bit stale. The recipe for success starts with the title, which is indicative of the way Trachtenberg and writer Patrick Aison flip the story’s usual structure on its head. In Prey, a young Comanche woman defies the gender norms of the Great Plains, and embarks on the hunt of a lifetime to prove she’s the best warrior her people have to offer. Although, contrary to what many may have assumed, Prey does not refer to Amber Midthunder‘s assertive lead. Every installment in the franchise thus far has utilized the Predator as its title character, and this project is no exception.
Fans have seen variations on this concept before, with the final human survivor turning the tables and facing the Predator head-on, but it’s never been executed quite like this. Naru, the protagonist, is the focus from the very start, with the film only picking up on the Predator’s activities to confirm it’s still somewhere on the prowl. In fact, at almost no point in the film is the Predator ever actually hunting Naru. She is on her own journey, running parallel to the beast’s increasingly destructive murder spree, hell-bent on emerging from their inevitable clash the victor. Much like the Predator itself, Naru knows the only way to prove herself is to return home with a trophy unlike anything her people have seen. She craves defeating the apex so she can become the apex. Prey introduces audiences to a different kind of predator, and in the process, dares to ask where man falls on the Venn diagram between glory and integrity. This is a violent, engaging coming-of-age tale that just so happens to feature an iconic extraterrestrial killing machine as its main foil.
Fear not, however, as the Predator itself is still given plenty of time to leave its mark. Trachtenberg manages to design some of the best kills the franchise has ever produced. There were multiple sequences that should probably elicit a discussion as to whether or not New Line Cinema could still let the filmmaker take over their Mortal Kombat fold. It feels almost grotesque to say that the violence in Prey is borderline beautiful, especially in light of recent world events, but it absolutely is. Actually, it’s worth stating that the entire project is a spectacle, shot to perfection by cinematographer Jeff Cutter. It’s a shame this film won’t be released in theaters because so much of it is exactly the kind of experience everyone hopes to have at the movies.
Propped against the breathtaking backdrop of the vast American wilderness, Prey might also use its setting better than any Predator film before it. The movie expertly uses a variety of natural predators, the kind often found in stories of the frontier, as a means of building tension throughout its first two acts. With tricky camera angles and creative framing, viewers can never be certain exactly what it is they’re watching creep through the trees, and it almost always leads to a satisfying payoff when whatever is lurking finally emerges to attempt a fatal strike. This also goes for the time period itself, which offers all sorts of adversity for Naru, in the form of both people and culture, as she fights her way towards dominance. It makes the deaths, and the survivals, seem far more rewarding. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have taken down a Predator, but he never had to worry about much else while doing it.
It’s difficult to put into words the energy this movie brings with it, but the most accurate sentiment may be this – it absolutely rips. The Urban Dictionary exemplifies this phrasing as, “when a dog runs laps around the yard, typically at full speed, and it’s highly entertaining to watch.” Watching Prey is like watching a dog run laps at full speed, only the dog is an alien killer and the laps are swift, brutal, stunning kills. The only way it could possibly be better were if it had a well-constructed, thematic story to go with it. Luckily, it does. Every Predator film has promised to be what this one actually delivers, which is why Prey is probably the best of the bunch, a must-watch for anyone who loves movies.