A familiar trophy-hunting, ass-kicking alien from who knows where drops in on the Comanche Nation, circa 1719, in Prey (★★★☆☆), a beautifully-shot reboot of the franchise Schwarzenegger and company launched in 1987.
Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) doesn’t leave the original Predator star completely out of the picture, either, putting one of Arnold’s choicest lines to deft use here.
That’s especially sharp for a film that eschews dialogue entirely for extended, absorbing scenes of the usually invisible Predator prowling a forest on the Northern Great Plains. But this movie isn’t about an alien on the hunt.
Doggedly pursuing the tech-aided outlander — while being pursued by him — tenacious warrior Naru (Amber Midthunder) leads cinematographer Jeff Cutter’s roaming camera into every sort of danger a young woman can get into in these woods. Between lions, bears, and this interstellar headache, Naru has her hands full, and, fortunately, her wits about her.
Midthunder transmits Naru’s cunning and her courage, and, abetted by damn good stunt work, her physical commitment. Naru’s not big, but she’s got big fight in her. Daughter of her tribe’s medicine woman, Aruka (Michelle Thrush), she also understands her environment as well as any of the young men who’d hold her back from hunting, including her older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers).
Prey is at its best in weaving a story about the importance of the hunt within the culture of this Comanche clan. It’s through the hunt that Naru must prove her worth, and that she’s poised for this particular battle in her own backyard.
The hunt is survival, so it’s clear when their hunting party comes across the skinned carcasses of a herd of buffalo that a wasteful new enemy has entered their territory.
In those gory details and in the early-morning mists, Prey captures an authentic sense of 18th-century serenity dashed with the brutality of life on the Plains among wild predators.
But the meticulous production design, costumes, and makeup aren’t matched by the unremarkable creature effects. Trachtenberg stages a nifty CGI bear attack, but that Revenant grizzly still holds the crown for most impressive onscreen presence.
This grizzly goes more rounds, though, also going one-on-one versus Predator. So for those keeping score, in addition to Predator versus bear, mark your cards for Predator versus wolf, and versus snake. Still, Naru and Taabe versus mountain lion beats them all.
The game-style rhythm moves briskly, ends abruptly, and feels a bit like its marking time whenever Naru or Taabe aren’t in frame. That’s despite cutting narrative corners, as in the case of one in their hunting party who’s surreptitiously taken out by the Predator — and just never mentioned again.
To do so would inconvenience the Chicken Little subplot of no one in the tribe believing Naru’s claims to have witnessed this strange creature in their woods. Rocking the skull cap of some previous quarry as a face mask, the Predator (Dane DiLiegro) will seem far less strange to anyone who’s seen a film in the franchise, including the not-bad spinoff Alien vs. Predator.
A long-ago forebear of Arnold’s 1987 nemesis, or maybe just that one’s mom or dad, this customer serves up the same tricks, but with less firepower or personality. And there wasn’t much personality to spare. Naru’s loyal hunting dog is a more compelling character.
The Predator, however, marks the challenge Naru must conquer, the iron against which to sharpen her own. She’s not infallible, but she certainly is dauntless, a quality she and Taabe share, and not just with each other. Their adversary is pretty relentless, too, making for a worthwhile matchup between predator and prey, however those labels might be applied.
Prey is streaming exclusively on Hulu. Visit www.hulu.com.
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