The Pitch: It’s 1719, in the Northern Great Plains; Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a young Comanche warrior desperate to prove herself among the men, including her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), under whose shadow she’s lived her entire life. She’s an ace with a bow and arrow, resourceful with medicines, and has unstoppable aim with a tomahawk. She’s ready for her kuhtaamia, the ritual hunt that would serve as her rite of passage.
Whether she realizes it or not, she’ll face a more challenging test than she bargained for; a new kind of warrior has entered the Great Plains, testing its mettle against the creatures of planet Earth. Soon enough, it sets its sights (and cloaking technology and dangerous space-age weapons) on Naru’s tribe, leaving the young warrior as the last defense against an unholy spirit from another world.
If It Bleeds…: The Predator has long been one of science fiction’s most iconic creatures, stymied by a less-than-stellar track record on screen. 1987’s Predator is an unmitigated classic, to be sure, but the Yautja (the canonical name for the series’ race of intergalactic sport hunters) have had some rough goes of it in one sequel after another over the decades. (Let’s not even talk about the Alien vs. Predator flicks.) So, a few years after the maximalist, reshoot-happy disaster of Shane Black’s The Predator, the series was long overdue for a fresh new start.
Fortunately, it’s an assignment director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) is uniquely suited for, making Prey one of the most exciting sci-fi thrillers of recent vintage. With Cloverfield, Trachtenberg proved a deft hand at smaller, high-concept sci-fi thrillers that delivered surprising bang for the buck while keeping the proceedings focused on a tight-knit group of characters. Prey‘s small-scale remit plays to his strengths, and it shows.
Gone are the “urban jungles” of Predator 2 or the guns-a-blazing hardasses of Predators or The Predator. By setting this one in the past, Trachtenberg (and screenwriter Patrick Aison) strip the creature’s appeal down to its essential elements: A solitary sport hunter searching for the most dangerous game, and the desperate warrior scrambling to survive. There are few high-caliber firearms: an ancient single-fire pistol is the most firepower Naru has against the creature, and it’s treated with all the gravity of a nuclear weapon.
This iteration of the Predator is lean, primal, a skull mask replacing the futuristic face plate of its forebears. Dane DiLiegro’s lithe physicality is a welcome move back to thinner, faster Preds, as compared to the beefy bois of other installments. In the creature’s first appearances, Trachtenberg tracks along one animal after another, one consuming the other, until ending with eventual evisceration by the Predator, encased ghostlike in a light-bending cloaking device. What an elegant means to showcase him as a new, dangerous disruption to the food chain.