dir. Dan Trachtenberg
In 1719, on the Great Plains of the Comanche Nation, Naru (Amber Midthunder) wrestles with a sense of belonging amongst her people. Trained as a healer she instead feels the call of the wild, wanting to join her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) and the other young warriors out in the woodlands. So when she sees a “thunderbird” in the sky – in reality a landing Predator ship – she interprets it as a sign that now is the time for her “kuhtaamia”: to hunt something which is hunting her.
This idea is a recurring one throughout the rocky history of the Predator franchise – from Schwarzenegger’s commandos stalking rebels to Glover’s cop tracking drug dealers – and it’s doubled down on here when in a brief sequence a rat eats an ant, a snake eats the rat and the cloaked alien skewers the snake, tearing its spine from its body as a trophy. As with the inversion of the title for this fifthquel the notion of “predator” and “prey” here is fluid, interchangeable, unstable.
That word too – “kuhtaamia”, the Comanche phrase for a hero’s rite of passage – suggests a concept familiar to the series. Here though there are additional layers, not only in the gendered aspect of our protagonist straining against the confines of her society’s expectations (despite, it should be said, the progressive support of her brother) but also on a meta-textual level in the film’s representation of Native American people. Prey is a landmark in this regard, being the first film to be dubbed in Comanche as well as the first to premiere in a Native language alongside its English version.
This authenticity is reinforced by the cast, many of whom are indigenous performers. Midthunder and Beavers in particular are excellent, exuding a natural sibling warmth where affection comes in competition and good-natured jibes. Behind the camera meanwhile director Trachtenberg – making only his second feature after his superlative debut 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) – once again demonstrates a natural talent for taut and propulsive story telling. As with Lane this is a story of female survival against existential threats – both fantastical and earthly – and he delivers with aplomb, giving knowing callbacks to fan-favourite moments whilst also cutting new ground, including a third act image which even references Dark Horse’s Big Game comics (itself about a Native American who faces down a Predator, albeit in modern times).
If there are quibbles it’s perhaps in the lack of iconic set-pieces or that the violence lacks the visceral excess of the first two Predator films (and that it’s not being released theatrically, a baffling decision by Disney though of course no fault of the filmmakers). But these are relatively minor points for what is a welcome – and much needed – recalibration.
For in recent years the Predator films – much like their xenomorph cousin Aliens – had fallen on disreputable times, but this is a massive course correction that proves that, in the right hands, there’s plenty of (green) blood in the old monster yet.