“Prey,” the reincarnation of the “Predator” franchise in prequel form, is a straight-up old-fashioned B-movie, a Western dressed up with spaceship, cloaking device and alien hunter effects.
A Native American take on the tale, it’s better than the worst of the “Predator” pictures, which makes its move directly to Hulu and Disney+ a puzzle. But we aren’t Disney accountants, are we? The “Predator” franchise feels played-out. And as I said, this one’s never more than a “B-movie.”
In Western terms that means the film puts the Texas and Southern Plains Comanche tribe in the woodlands of the north, dealing with the first incursions by French fur-trappers in the late 18th or very early 19th century. Buffalo and grizzly bears and elk and wolves and mountain lions co-exist in the same corner of North America.
That’s B-movie “history” and “geography” for you.
Amber Midthunder plays Naru, a 20ish huntress in a patriarchal tribe that isn’t that keen on her chosen path in life. She’s good with a bow, handy with a hatchet. And with her very smart dog by her side, there isn’t much in the forest she can’t handle.
She wants to become one of the hunters and make her spirit quest against something formidable. She’s seen the legendary “thunder bird,” which made the sky boil as its engines brought it to Earth. Her people are familiar with the passengers on that craft, so it would seem. She wants her “test” to be against a Predator.
“You want to hunt something that hunts you,” her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) wonders? Be careful what you wish for.
And as we see our towering, stealthy (invisible) and advanced-tech-armed “hunter” battle a bear, and then start slaughtering his way through tribal hunting parties, we get Taabe’s point. Naru faces fight-or-flight choices, and we understand the way she flinches when faced with the chance to kill something she might not be able to finish off and we’re downright impressed with her decision to flee on first sight.
She’s not stupid.
Director Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane” and TV’s “The Boys”) makes great use of locations (Alberta, Canada) and the film’s set-piece fights. Screenwriter Patrick Aison sticks to the “Predator” basics for the alien hunter, and creates some wonderfully visceral scenes that try to reason out how bow and arrow, hatchet and woodlore skills might be used against a super-sized/super-powered foe.
Mainly, though, this picture is about the ways the over-sized, over-equipped villain slaughters Comanches and has his way with some enterprising French trappers as well.
The leads are compelling with Midthunder pretty and plucky and very fit, and Beavers is primed for Matinee Idol status.
Lapses in logic, infuriating hesitations on the part of our heroine and trite talk-to-the-dog dialogue are familiar tropes of Native-oriented Westerns and B-movies of every stripe. And what self-respecting B-picture would be complete without that hoariest of action film cliches of Old Hollywood — quicksand?
This is still a perfectly passable creature feature-meets-First-Americans entertainment, and I dare say any multiplex in North America would have loved to shown it.
Rating: R for strong bloody violence.
Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Stefany Mathias, Mike Paterson and Michelle Thrush
Credits: Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, scripted by Patrick Aison, based on the “Predator” movies. A 20th Century Film on Hulu and Disney+.
Running time: 1:39