Focusing on a Comanche tribe, around 300 years prior to the events of the original Predator (1987), Prey follows Naru (Amber Midthunder) a Comanche warrior who sets out to hunt down the creature that’s been rummaging through their lands. Little does she know, she’s about to come face-to-face with a highly-evolved alien.
With the last two attempts at reviving the Predator franchise trying (and failing) to create something bigger and better, Prey chooses to go back to the roots of the original film – sticking to a small, self-contained narrative. That right there is the main reason why this movie is so exceptional – the scope. This is a very straightforward, small-scale narrative that focuses heavily on character development and quality storytelling above huge explosions and crazy sci-fi concepts. Writer/director Dan Trachtenberg clearly had a vision for what he wanted Prey to be, and he executed it incredibly well. From the get-go, it’s clear this film is in no rush to give you the Predator action you came to see. The narrative expertly builds suspense through a first act filled with tense, dramatic sequences, giving you just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, while not enough to peak too early.
Time is spent really wisely in the first act, not only foreshadowing what’s to come, but giving us some meaningful insight into what drives our lead character, Naru. The entire story hinges on her determination to prove herself to her tribe as a worthy warrior. The setup for her character is brilliant – not a moment is wasted, and it ensures you go into the second act understanding what makes her tick. Once you’re on her side, the tension is heightened exponentially as it gradually builds to a third act that is something truly masterful.
Dan Trachtenberg knows what’s up when it comes to crafting a slow story that’s not boring. Take his most recent film, 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), for example – he managed to take a story involving a couple of people in a bunker, and turn it into a tension-filled thrill ride that was gripping from the opening shot to the very last.
Knowing this was going to be a ‘smaller’ story, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the action – such as how much we’d get, and the overall scale. There’s some damn cool moments sprinkled throughout the earlier moments, but it’s the climax where the sparks really fly. Brutal, bloody and inventive are just some of the words I’ll use to describe how awesome the entire final act is. Don’t get me wrong, I was already locked in with the character-focused story, but the climax is an extravaganza of creative action sequences and insane Predator antics I couldn’t look away from. The handling of the Predator himself is fantastic – he’s a force to be reckoned with and has an entire arsenal of tech at his disposal. I like the approach of keeping him largely hidden in the shadows as it adds to the mystique, even if we’ve already seen countless of them on screen in the past.
I’d never heard of Amber Midthunder prior to this film, but I’m sure I’ll see more of her after the performance she delivers here. There’s not any single moment that stands out above the rest, but her performance as a whole is effectively strong throughout. She nails the action sequences with ease and is very convincing in the role. The one thing about the film that occasionally caught me off-guard was the fact that the Comanche tribe speaks in English. It was fine for the majority of the runtime, but there were a few lines that seemed a little too modern. I understand that there’s a version where they do speak entirely in the native language, so I’m not going to hold it against the film too much.
In the end, Prey is a thrilling example of how sometimes less is more. The decision to return to the small-scale storytelling of the original film has worked wonders here, allowing Dan Trachtenberg to really flesh out Naru without the distraction of trying to weave in some larger narrative. The slow burn storytelling works a treat, with the gradual building of tension keeping you on the edge of your seat for the entire runtime. A slow burn is nothing without a huge finale – and Prey delivers exactly that. From the action to the narrative, there’s a lot to love about this certified thriller especially if you’re a fan of the original.