VOD film review: Prey
James R | On 05, Aug 2022
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers
“Because you all think I can’t.” That’s what Naru (Amber Midthunder) gives as her reason for wanting to become a warrior, an ambition that the rest of her tribe dismiss as ridiculous. The year? 1719. The place? The Southern Plains, where the would-be Comanche hunter spies a ball of red fire moving through the sky. She takes it as a sign that she’s ready for kühtaamia, the rite of passage that all warriors must undergo. But when brutal killings start to wipe out the tribe’s seasoned hunters, she realises that it’s more than a dangerous lion causing trouble.
That’s part of the problem with the Predator franchise – we all know that the thing going bump in the night is an alien with a cloaking device and infra-red vision. But Prey lives up to its playful title by sidestepping all the cliches that we’ve seen before, stripping everything back to basics, while still doing something thrillingly new. Leaning away from the macho stylings of the classic original, this is a leaner affair, one that knows to take its time in building up to its inevitable showdown, but still wraps everything up in 90 minutes flat.
The script, from Patrick Aison, repeatedly reaps the rewards of taking a fresh perspective on the sci-fi franchise, with the Indigenous Americans on screen bringing something new to the table without even being exoticised or belittled – the backdrop for the film, and the language its characters speak, are seamlessly matter-of-fact, at once integral to the plotting and tone and almost irrelevant. The Indigenous cast, with representation behind the screen too, are superb, with Dakota Beavers providing vital support as Naru’s tough but pleasingly supportive brother, Taabe.
But this is Amber Midthunder’s film and she announces herself as a major leading star, managing to be resilient, quick-witted and resourceful at all times. From her faithful dog companion to her unflinching treatment of French voyageurs, she’s a brilliantly rounded presence, capable of empathy and dispatching gruesome justice in equal measure, with much of this conveyed through her actions as much as her dialogue.
It’s a thrill to see her in action, gradually commanding the screen, just as much as it is to see director Dan Trachtenberg dig up new ways of subverting old tricks. The 10 Cloverfield Lane director is no stranger to finding unexpected spins on familiar ideas and here he’s at the top of his game, from inventive weaponry and a gorgeous use of shadows and glowing greens to the first reveal of the new-look beast, dripping in red stuff. And, best of all, there’s no cumbersome mythology exposition to wade through or wider sequel tie-ins to muddy these distilled waters. The Predator franchise rediscovering its blockbuster appeal is the last thing anyone expected but, just because everyone thinks it can’t, Prey proves it can – and then some.