PREY
(***)-JIM RUTKOWSKI

"...it smashes through a low bar with ease"

Easily the Best Entry in the Bloated Franchise

(081822) Thereís an obvious lack of creative necessity to Hollywoodís overwhelming churn of prequels, sequels, remakes, reboots and revisions, more so by the minute, as studio-owned streaming services plunder back catalogues for more ways they can exploit known properties. Upcoming TV shows based on Fatal Attraction, Alien, Grease, Mr and Mrs Smith, The Lord of the Rings and Reality Bites and films based on The Killer, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Crow, White Men Canít Jump, Road House, Scarface and The Bodyguard are all so commercially inevitable that itís almost hard to be angry, each new announcement deserving little more than a resigned shrug. Itís business, not pleasure.

So on the rare occasion that this practice offers up something that feels even mildly outside of the algorithm, as if perhaps maybe a human might have come up with it rather than a spreadsheet, itís hard not to give it more credit than it often deserves. Fox, AKA Disney, AKA Hulu, AKA Disney+ in international territories has dragged the Predator series back to life once again for a seventh outing (two Predators, two Alien vs Predators, a Predators and a The Predator make six) but rather than continuing down the same well-trodden road, theyíve taken a left turn and then gone back around 300 years.

For the neatly titled Prey, the 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg (who knows a thing or two about finding a smart way into a sci-fi franchise) places us in the year 1719 and in the Comanche Nation. A young woman Naru (Amber Midthunder) continues to try, and fail, to impress those around with her skills as a warrior, talked down to and belittled by the men who refuse to take her ambition seriously. But when Naru notices a new kind of predator, one who canít simply be hunted as a bear or lion would, she finds a way to prove herself and save her people.

Itís a fresh spin, surprisingly fresh, and in a belated period of increased representation for Indigenous Americans (mostly on the small screen with Reservation Dogs, Rutherford Falls and Dark Winds), itís one of the biggest wins yet. While it really shouldnít be, it feels genuinely new to see a genre film of this scale centered on an almost entirely Native cast (the only white characters are odious French invaders). Itís worth applauding not because of the mere fact of what it is and what it means but because screenwriter Patrick Aison (a TV pro with credits including Jack Ryan and Wayward Pines), finds a way to make it all seem perfectly seamless, the setting an inventive way to impose a new set of restrictions on a story weíve seen a few too many times before. The Predatorís hi-tech armory (which seems more brutal and expansive than ever) is even more intimidating when matched with the tribeís limited resources. Itís an interesting puzzle for a writer and Aison finds nifty ways to work around it, focusing on stripped-back ingenuity rather than mere weaponry (some of Naruís ideas will be met with a vocal a-ha).

While itís a treat for those at home, streaming exclusively on the small screen, itís a bit of a shame that something with such impressively grand vistas and intricate, well-choreographed action wonít be seen at the cinema, yet another recent digital premiere that feels suited for a life less ordinary. The Predator franchise has never been a particularly complex one and has always suffered from the inescapable comparisons to Alien but the pleasingly self-contained Prey is made with an awareness of what simple pleasures we expect and enjoy and unlike some of the weaker entries, thereís no muddled or misfiring attempt to add much depth or exposition. Despite being a prequel, thereís mercifully no attempt to delve into the mythology and origins of the Predator and no suggestion that the world is receiving a deeper expansion anytime soon.

It works best when itís at its most B-movie basic, it smashes through a low bar with ease. Said smashing is done with gusto from 25-year-old Midthunder who rises to the challenge of taking on the Predator even if her characterís ascent from unsure warrior-in-training to top-of-the-food-chain action hero is missing a few beats or, dare I say, a training montage. It leaves a few how-did-she-do-that moments in the second act before a rousing finale leaves us in no doubt of her powers.

We didnít need a Predator prequel (or any of the sequels) but Prey is a nimble beast, far nimbler than it could have been and while itís not quite enough to make us crave more from a franchise thatís already given us too much, itís enough to justify the journey way back.
 

Directed by:    Dan Trachtenberg
 Written  by:    Screenplay by Patrick Aison-from a story by
 Patrick Aison & Dan Trachtenberg. Based on the
 characters created by Jim Thomas & John
 Thomas
Starring:    Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane
 DiLiegro
Released:    07/21/22
Length:    99 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for strong bloody violence
Available On:    Available on Hulu

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

PREY  © 2022 Hulu
Review © 2022 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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