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Eat, ‘Prey,’ Love: The ‘Predator’ Reboot Has Hit Its Mark

From my (and anyone who is able to recognize what an anomaly Top Gun: Maverick really was’) perspective, the blockbuster has been on an inconsistent decline for quite sometime. With each year passing, content slated exclusively for streaming services has been on the rise while the popcorn flicks for the big movie houses have somewhat derailed. 

But within the wall-to-wall content machine that Hollywood has become, a machine that pumps out hundreds of films no matter the quality, I am shocked that Dan Trachtenberg‘s (10 Cloverfield Lane, Black Mirror: Playtest) new survivalist-thriller Prey didn’t even get a chance to play in theaters.


Another installment in the Predator franchise in 2022 is welcomed for the most part, but the film is certainly an oddball in both timing and distribution. An ever-lasting hope to re-spark that magic from John McTiernan’s original, a 1980s party of sweat, bulging forearms and heavy firearms, remains the design. The Schwarzenegger vessel is a piece of remarkably fluid action and excitement that, only by its own runtime, morphs into a sci-fi, creature-feature slasher flick, concluding in a bare-knuckled brawl of mud and excruciating mortality. Any attempt to either sequel-ize or reboot the narrative of a war-machine-bred man against a war-machine-bred alien (and there have been a few) never seemed to re-engage what the original captured so perfectly. Until now.


Where Prey distinguishes itself from its previous counterparts is its unique worldly setting in an 18th century Comanche tribe, which is an interesting new avenue to take the franchise. The predator dropped into a story mirroring The Revenant? I’ll take it! Such a placement automatically generates a long, eccentric list of predator vs. numerous native animals and tribes, not to mention the intrigue of watching the monster react to and operate around an array of ever-evolving environmental obstacles that one would probably not picture in a Predator flick. That curiosity births the idealistic basics of the plot; young, fearless Naru (Amber Midthunder) stumbles across sightings and markings of an unknown creature stalking and picking off, one-by-one, members of her tribe.

The burden of familial duty whilst dealing with a danger at hand (that the main character is probably the only one capable of stopping) is stuff we’ve seen a handful of times before, but there is an uplift of quality when it is formally married with some of the gnarliest gore in recent mainstream releases. Mixed in also is a handful of eye-catching environmental imagery that holds and soaks in its own little pre-“Get to the choppa!” world. 


Formally, I think Trachtenberg is a fine choice to helm a smaller steppingstone in such a disconnected franchise for the majority of people who want to see a meaty action movie. Still, there are plenty of emotional character interactions that hold enough weight for audiences to care about. Trachtenberg and crew utilize practical surroundings to manage a lived in, worn-out aesthetic of Naru’s journey and her relationships with other tribe members.


Unfortunately, I couldn’t shake a strong vibe in Prey that I felt in Trachtenberg’s last of-note smaller blockbuster: 10 Cloverfield Lane. In it, a smaller, independent character story was in the works before suddenly being reworked to be a Cloverfield sequel. A lot of that same recycled script work feels very apparent here, as if the survivalist, action-rife story had to be reworked to act as another chapter in the Predator saga. Additionally, the film has some questionable, unfinished special effects and quote call-backs to make reference to its franchise, including but not limited to, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” Ick.

Although streaming is the new waypoint in film releases, it is obvious that some of the images and fight sequences in Prey would have been delightful to witness in cinemas. An eager crowd of a movie this gnarly would have gone gangbusters, and listening to a crowd react to some of the visual details (gorgeous and gory) would’ve certainly enhanced my experience.


But who am I to complain? A new release that is this unapologetically violent is one that comes few and far between and should be embraced. Prey sometimes stumbles in both narrative and connective tissue of other installments, but makes up for it in fluent, inundating camerawork and confident, white-knuckled gore.


Prey is streaming now on Hulu (US) and Disney+ (Worldwide)


-Jack

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