Prey Review: Fresh Blood in a Franchise Gone Stale

Many times over the past 15 years, an attempt has been made to revive the Predator franchise. After stalling out in the wake of the first two movies and limping its way to minor success with Alien crossovers, Predator was rebooted twice in 2010 and 2018, both with the intention of kickstarting a new series of films. Though their successes as movies may be argued, neither offered a jolt to the system. With this week's Prey, yet another attempt has been made, and the third time was the charm, as the filmmakers have given us the best entry in the Predator franchise since the original movie. And they did it by subverting what you might expect, while also letting things play out.

Dialing the action back to the Comanche Nation in 1719, Prey takes the franchise to its roots in a literal way. Not only is this the first time that this Predator has visited Earth, but it plants its feet in the man vs. beast nature of John McTiernan's 1987 original. Because of this decision in the storytelling, the movie offers viewers a unique point of view with the Predator as we see it (as well as one can see a cloaked alien) learning about the hierarchy of the food chain on Earth. While the Predator is figuring out our planet, the film's lead, Naru, played by the incredible Amber Midthunder, is discovering the threat that has landed at her tribe's front door.

Structurally, Prey has an ironclad narrative, setting up and paying off key moments with equal amounts of patience and satisfaction. It may take a bit of time for the Predator to encounter actual humans in the film in a bloody way, but by the time it does happen, the whole thing is a powder keg that's left a burning trail behind it. Midthunder's performance is central to all this, as the track that Naru follows in hoping to prove herself to her tribe, discovering the invisible hunter in their midst, and how those two align, becomes the beating heart of the entire movie.

Though not in every scene, Midthunder has to carry the entire film by virtue of the fact that she spends so much of it either on her own or in direct contrast to her scene partners, including a great on-screen dog that is clearly very excited to be acting in a movie. Flanking her is a strong ensemble, made up primarily of actual indigenous and Native American actors. Dakota Beavers plays Naru's brother, Taabe, who delivers a good performance given the role of skeptic-turned-believer when it comes to the danger of the Predator, while also giving off the proper amount of arrogance. Among the few non-Native roles in the project is Mike Paterson, whose turn as a French fur trapper named only "Big Beard" earns him a spot as one of the best secondary antagonists in a Predator film.

Director Dan Trachtenberg steps behind the camera for Prey, his first film since 2016's 10 Cloverfield Lane, and one that proves once again he's a passionate storyteller with a keen eye. Where Prey feels unique from the other films in the series is in exercising patience. Trachtenberg threads the needle between feeding us the next pieces of the story and giving the audience moments of reflection. The huge, sweeping vistas of the terrain where the movie was shot give Prey a wholly unique feel visually compared to the other films in the series, but also revel in this setting the same way the first two entries did. The balancing act that Trachtenberg finds between his quieter scenes and the explosive ones is tantamount to Prey's success. While the big action and violence that many are expecting does happen, Prey is in no real hurry to get to it, but manages to pepper in some huge surprises ahead of its climax

Patrick Aison penned the script, which features some clever allusions to the larger Predator series -- some feeling ham-fisted and others that feeling natural -- and which make this movie more than just a sidetrack of the franchise. While some fans of the series as a whole will find its connectivity to the rest of the movies a major boost to the narrative, the fact remains that it works well for non-fans without pointing a giant neon arrow at any Easter eggs.

Where Prey stumbles the most is that, after five movies, the formula for the franchise is starting to feel stale. Even though Prey manages to find some fresh ways in how it handles things, there's still a very Friday the 13th-like cookie cutter that seems to have put this into the shape it's in. Ever since the first film in the series, each entry has become a version of "the Predator kills people here," and though it feels fresher in Prey than some of the others, we're getting to the end of the rope. There may be more than one way to skin a cat, but there's apparently still only one way to tell a Predator story. The change this time is compelling characters and fresh scenery.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Prey will stream exclusively on Hulu on Friday, August 5th.