I’m a big fan of the Predator franchise, but after 2018’s The Predator unseated the all-time worst movie I’ve ever seen (the theatrical cut of Justice League) I decided, in the spirit of Jesse Ventura, I ain’t got time to bleed over these movies anymore. As I write that I feel like such a fraud because I’d watch “Predator on Ice” if it existed. It’s not my favorite franchise, Star Wars has that spot (even with the terrible show they gave my favorite character, more on that in a second). But the Predator movies do that thing I love that the Aliens movies also do so well where they pit a group of folks against killer aliens. Just that. Pretty simple, yet half the time, in both franchises, they screw it up.
I host a Star Wars podcast called I Have Spoken, and when The Book of Boba Fett was coming out, I had a guest on every week so that I had someone else with me to cry with over the fact that we were getting new Boba Fett stories almost 3 decades after I’d tattooed him on my arm as my favorite character. But I did this thing where I was convincing myself after every episode that the Boba show was good. It wasn’t. In fact, when it was all over, I realized how phoned in the effort by Disney was, and that what I had really watched was basically Xena Warrior Princess in space with a helmet. But not even that good because there’s literally, in 8 episodes, only one fight where Boba Fett wears his dome. Ridiculous.
My point is that as a big fan of the Predator series I was really looking forward to the new installment, PREY. And after I watched it, I really liked it. But before I wrote about it and shared my thoughts, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing that thing I did with Boba Fett. So, I let it marinate a couple weeks, and now I can happily say that PREY is damn good. It is exactly the revitalizing that the Predator franchise deserved, and absolutely the refresh that I needed as a Predator fan.
Before I gush, I want to get my one complaint out of the way, so spoilers for the end. I think making PREY a period piece is brilliant. It’s something I’ve wanted to see since the gun reveal at the end of Predator 2, which ironically is a plot point of PREY. But after this movie move on. Be brilliant again and go to feudal Japan and have the Predator go up against Samurai. Then go to a pirate ship and let’s see what happens to Predators on water! And so on. But as the end credits animation shows, it looks like we’re going to get another movie set in the exact same spot against the exact same characters. It doesn’t make sense and I think works against the fresh ideas this movie presents. But like I said, Predator on Ice, Predator in the woods, I’ll watch it all.
The three spots where PREY really shines are the directing by Dan Trachtenberg, the new “Feral Predator” design, and the Comanche tribe cast with a special “HELL YEAH!” to the lead, Amber Midthunder.
Most have never heard of Trachtenberg, but some may know him as the guy that directed the good sequel to Cloverfield, 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane. Aliens aren’t new to him, neither is how to use a camera. His capture of the choreography in the action scenes is impressive. It’s one thing to have a great choreographed sequence, but if it’s not captured correctly, it can result is a confusing mess. Christopher Nolan is an amazing director, but I’m reminded of how bad he can be at capturing action, especially during hand-to-hand combat. There are too many scenes where you know Batman is doing some awesome moves, but because of Nolan’s choices with the camera, most of it is lost literally in the shuffle. Not the case with Trachtenberg. I know everyone is raving about the scene in the woods with the smoke where the Predator tears through some gross Frenchmen, and it’s a great scene, well shot, but my money is on the scene where Naru, her brother Taabe, and Naru’s dog, Sarii, fight the Predator in the camp. The way Taabe enters the fight on horseback gave me chills, but it wouldn’t have been as effective had the shot been closer or from a different angle. Sometimes it’s best to just set the camera down and show what it is you’re trying to show, leaving style out of it.
I watch a lot of crappy horror movies on Tubi, and it seems like the new eye-grabber is a drone shot from above a thick forest as we slowly move toward what the director wants you to think is impending doom, but it just ends up being a pretty shot of trees from overhead. The new Day of the Dead series, which I liked, does this after every commercial break. Without a point it gets old, fast. But Trachtenberg uses this shot a couple times, and when he does, he’s showing the viewer the seclusion of the tribe in their lifestyle, or how death is encroaching. Or in one of the best shots in the movie he uses the drone shot to rise up from the ground in front of Naru, our lead, marching away from camp toward earned heroism and in opposition of the rest of the tribe’s female members and tradition. It’s a beautiful and wide shot of what the other characters in the scene view as obstinance and foolishness, but what Naru knows is what she was always meant to do.
For PREY they decided on what is being called the “Feral Predator”. Alec Gillis and his crew at Studio ADI came up with the concept and designed it to be a more compact and stealthier version of the alien, as opposed to the usual hulking beast of a creature we’ve seen only get larger with each subsequent film after the original Predator. To me it’s a far more gruesome and deadlier looking design. PREY is apparently as much of a prequel to the Predator story as we’re going to get. It takes place in the late 1700’s, and as far as we know, this is the first time the Predators have visited Earth. So, it would stand that maybe the species hasn’t yet evolved into what we normally see, or maybe they aren’t sending in the “big guns” until they know what they’re dealing with. Which is an interesting idea that we see a couple times throughout the film as the Predator watches creatures kill each other, from the insect to the rodent to the snake. And later, the bear and lion to the humans. Learning with each kill.
One thing I always love seeing, even in the AVP flicks, is the new weaponry that the Predators are packing. Of course, there are the classic triple laser sighted shoulder canons and the awesome arm blades. But I’ll never forget seeing the shrinking net in the second movie, as it pinned the guy to the wall and began biting into the person, cutting them into cubes. And then there’s the floating blade disk that cut Gary Busey in half leaving his upper body hovering in mid-air while gravity pulled his guts to the floor.
The Feral Predator has the canon, the blade, the net, and a formidable spear. But what caught my attention was his wrist shield. I’m a big Captain America fan, and I love the idea of a weapon that is designed for defense but, if need be, the wielder can find the ingenuity to use it on the offense. And I guarantee you, every one of those guys that got hit with Cap’s shield in the opening of Civil War would have suffered the same fate as Busey in Predator 2. Which is one of the things I love about this weapon. Trachtenberg shows us the multi-use of the Predator’s wrist shield in the smokey forest scene. We see it fan out with brilliant speed as he brings it up to block musket fire. And then later he’s using it as a bladed weapon, and due to a moment of arrogance while fighting Naru, accidentally uses it to cut off his own arm. A string of action that Trachtenberg nailed with more of his dead on still shots.
I really enjoyed Dakota Beavers as Naru’s brother and warrior leader of the tribe, Taabe. He struck that perfect balance of brotherly support for his sister’s seemingly misplaced personal goals, and doubt that she could achieve them. He had a fresh command about him that is severely missing from other actors in his age group. He had a good death, but if they do another movie in the same setting, it’ll be a shame not to see him back. I also enjoyed the rest of the hunting party more than I usually like a group of younger actors, and the mom really stood out as a realistic and believable support in Naru’s life.
But here we are, 2022, and I can’t believe that I’m still hearing that one of the complaints of this movie is that we have a female star participating in action and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. As if those circumstances were only made for The Rock and his phony leg to jump 73 floors through a blazing inferno with an ax in one hand and a damsel in the other. The irony is that these are the same guys that grew up with and worship at the feet of Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley. They quote The Bride from Kill Bill, they can’t get enough of Scarlett Johansen’s twisty kung fu, Zoe Saldona’s blue-skinned badass, they think Margot Robbie is a funny ass-kicker as Harley Quinn, and some even give Xena the “fun romp” seal of approval. Is it because Amber Midthunder is Native American, or that to go against a Predator you have to be regurgitating Schwarzenegger’s one liners from movie to movie (looking at you Adrian Brody)?
I don’t get it. But what I do get is that male or female, Naru fucking earned her win at the end of the movie. And that is what makes or breaks any hero story for me. When we first meet Sarah Connor she’s a wimpy scooter rider with no social life, getting stood up by dates, defending her ass from gross, grabby hands, and hanging out with her roommate’s pet lizard. To date she is one of the most inspiring characters and character arcs I’ve seen. But she earned that station in pop culture. She didn’t just walk in with her phony leg and ax, 73 floors, fire… you get it. She earned it. Likewise, regardless of the size of Arnold’s biceps he was terrified. He lost everyone, all his weapons, all his cigars, and sitting there covered in mud he was done. He was bracing for impact knowing he’d been beaten. But like Naru, he got a second chance and with cunning, science and ingenuity he earned his survival. His strength and cigars didn’t matter.
I loved the rope ax! Anyone that has a problem with it probably complains about having to take wrapping paper off of gifts at Christmas. But as cool as that was, my favorite part of Naru’s character is her persistence. She was constantly finding a way to either push forward, or at least push back against what was pushing her down. She never gave up, and there were so many times in the movie where I honestly could have seen her taking a back seat to her brother. I think there is a much lesser version of PREY where Taabe does take the reigns and becomes a more centralized hero, until the end, where similarly, he’s killed, and Naru ultimately strikes the final blow and still wins the day but not her character status. I love that she did. Maybe I’m making too big of a deal about how dense some folks still are, and what people like or don’t like. Or maybe the world of cinema really does impact real-life to such a degree where every so often we need to sit down intending to watch someone just chew bubble gum and kick ass for a couple hours, but instead are shown someone that has to actually bust their ass just to survive the day. When we finally find out that what Tom Hanks whispers to Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan is “Earn it” my face exploded. It’s stuck with me ever since and I’ll never forget the impact it had on me. The simplicity in those 2 words can and should be applied to life, death, man, woman, fiction, non-fiction, predator or prey.
Adam Crohn is a freelance writer of all things cool, founder of AC Toy Design, co-host of the podcasts Death by Podcast and I Have Spoken: A Star Wars Show, and amateur YouTuber. He is often found with his dog, Egoom, saving cicadas from being squashed, and warning people to avoid stepping in crap. Big Hall and Oates fan.