Once again, streaming services have decided to put out another movie that I would’ve happily seen on the big screen. The difference being, this time the movie is actually really good (I, unlike most, had fun with The Gray Man, but it wasn’t exactly art). The movie of discussion is Hulu’s Prey, a prequel to Predator, and honestly, it’s kind of an awesome little movie; one that would’ve been better serviced to a movie theatre, but one that is rollicking on your own TV too.
The first Predator with Schwarzenegger is of course an absolute banger. As both an action movie and a horror movie, it’s really effective and just awesome. Predator 2, ehhhh… not so much. Alien vs. Predator, ehhhh… nope. 2010’s Predators… huh, weirdly missed that one. But I didn’t miss Shane Black’s quickly forgotten 2018 rendition The Predator, but I guess I wish I had. Happy to report though that with Prey, the second film from director Dan Trachtenberg (see: the excellent 10 Cloverfield Lane), we’re back in business.
In news that may shock no one, Prey is easily the best Predator movie in 35 years. In a lot of ways, it plays a lot of the same notes as the John McTiernan classic, but that was the 80’s, and this is 2022. That being said, despite not oozing with 80’s macho (and I’m all in on 80’s macho), there are beats in Prey that would’ve been really satisfying in the 80’s as well. This movie is violent and grisly, in the way that you’d want a Predator movie to be, and often, when the Predator is getting to do his thing, very awesome and satisfying. You know what is going to happen, how it needs to happen and where it’s going to go, but it hardly matters because it’s done so well. It’s also 100 minutes, which is just wonderful (unlike this weekend’s Bullet Train though, I could’ve watched more of this). Guys, take notes.
Where the first movie was set in an 80’s jungle, and the second movie in 90’s LA, Prey is set in 1719, in the world of the Comanche Nation. One thing that probably wouldn’t have worked in the 80’s is authentic casting, but there’s no need to go into that. Making quite a breakthrough is Amber Midthunder, who we know early on will be the one we’re taking this journey with (in other words, she’s this movie’s Schwarzenegger). Midthunder plays Naru, who is strong, sensible, and very sensible with her resources. She very much wants the approval of her family and of her tribe, but they’re not fully willing to give her the time of day.
They spend their days hunting and training and making weapons and such. Naru actually makes this badass and efficient axe with a rope tied to it that impressed me early. The tribe is not alone though, seeing as there are gluttonous French settlers nearby. There is also something otherworldly in their midst, and Naru comes face-to-face with it (er, sort of, it’s kind of holographic and invisible) in one of the film’s first awesome sequences involving a bear. With the bejesus scared out of her after what she’s witnessed, she tries telling the tribe that they’re in danger. Despite ignoring her, they soon find out… uh, the hard way, and Naru and her family must fight for their lives against what they truly can’t see or understand.
So yeah, it’s a pretty familiar setup, except the packaging is unique and the setting is pretty cool. Mostly though, what makes Prey so successful is that it’s a blockbuster that is not only really well made, but it’s satisfying in the ways that you’d want a Predator movie to be. There are kills in this movie that are really cool and jaw-dropping. I don’t particularly have a thirst for blood, but there’s something about watching this fugly dreadlocked alien annihilate that I’ll never grow tired of. Pretty much every time Prey is doing Predator-things in this film, I couldn’t help but be in awe.
The look of this movie is marvelous, in some ways reminiscent of the beauty of something like The Revenant, but what floored me were the visual effects. Predator is a great film and those visual effects still look good, but the point of a movie like Prey is to show how far movies have come, and the visual effects in Prey, as well as just the way the the Predator’s blood looks, is among the year’s best. Credit really must be paid to Midthunder though. Here is an actress that we hardly know, and we buy into her performance pretty much from the jump, and she does a really good job of getting us to care. We root for her success the entire time, and she’s also just a natural presence that we hopefully get more of.
I’m a simple man, Prey is a simple movie, and that’s what makes it work so well. I really dug this movie. After decades of trying to get the Predator formula right, they have done it here. It’s a spectacular and very entertaining movie, and honestly, I’d happily watch another one. I’d happily watch Midthunder go toe-to-toe with another Predator. Or shoot, throw the Predator in another historical setting, I don’t care. This is the action movie I wanted and needed, and I had a helluva time.