Prey is a different beast from the latest franchise blockbusters

Before its release a few days ago, few would have predicted that the new Predator movie prey, should conquer the zeitgeist, not to mention the hearts of film Twitter. Reviews were positive, but this was still a stripped-down, mid-budget franchise update streamed direct to Hulu while all Hollywood traffic, inspired by a resurgent box office, went the other way.

And yet here was revered art-house filmmaker Barry Jenkins, who spent his Saturday night breathlessly live-tweeting his way through the new film, heaping praise on it and its director, Dan Trachtenberg. “I mean, she knocked him out – girl is TUFF,” he gushed after a fight scene with heroine, Comanche hunter Naru (Amber Midthunder). “This is a sleek, mean, impressive piece of filmmaking. The craft is on POINT,” tweeted Jenkins, who knows what he’s talking about. The fight choreography was “impeccable”. The film’s themes could be “a visceral genre dig into manifest destiny”. Jenkins approved: If you like “visceral, awesome ass movies, you should REALLY watch PREY, certified hype.”

He wasn’t alone. Across social media, movie fans expressed their surprise at how good the film was and their frustration at not being able to see it on the big screen. prey seems to have really struck a chord. This was surprising for a film series that, while remaining reliably entertaining, has struggled to recapture popular imaginations in the wake of the phenomenal predator erupted in 1987. Most predator Sequels have been content to wallow in their trashy niche while the biggest swing was 2018 The robberShe was also the biggest failure. What went right this time?

Naru faces off against the Predator in Prey

Photo: David Bukach/20th Century Studios

Perhaps those low expectations were key – not only on the part of the audience, but also on the part of the studio. The ambivalence among new franchise owners Disney about how popular Predator really is may be one reason prey‘s streaming debut. But it must also have eased the pressure on the film significantly, at a moment when Hollywood bosses are particularly obsessed with wringing every last ounce of potential from every franchise in their books. The result is that Trachtenberg got to make a film that stands in stark and refreshing contrast to much of the current franchise cuisine.

Unlike, say, Jurassic World Dominion, prey doesn’t have to carry the burdens that come with a massive budget, a world-spanning shoot, a sprawling cast that includes all the main characters from two different sub-series, or the need to up the ante from one set piece to the next. It doesn’t have to find a home like layers of silt in lore built up over decades. It doesn’t have to squeeze in crossover cameos at the behest of universe-building executives.

With all these constraints and considerations of conforming to the fate of many franchise films, it breaks out Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore to Ghostbusters: Life After Death, was muddled storytelling, disorganized production, matter-of-fact self-mythologization, and overly long running times. When watching these bloated productions, it’s often hard to remember that most of these series started out as straightforward, escapist romp.

Naru and her brother Taabe on horseback in the woods of Prey

Photo: 20th Century Studios

In contrast, prey is the image of his inspiration: a tight, 100-minute genre film that takes a simple concept and executes it sparingly but with unrelenting purpose. The stroke of genius by Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison is to be made prey a prequel, but one that’s so far removed from the original predator – 268 years ago – that it practically gives them a blank slate. Add to that the Predator lore is barely overdeveloped to begin with, and you have a film free to be itself, unencumbered by the need to anticipate or fill out a backstory.

prey breathes with the space so many of its modern sci-fi and action peers lack. Its cleanly shot, sharply edited action scenes are complemented by the clearly described beats of Naru’s quest to prove himself as a slayer and interpolated with contemplative travel shots in a beautiful wilderness. There is no B plot. There is no plot because there really is no plot to reveal; something is out there killing and it needs to be stopped. There’s even a bit of room to expand the thematic scope of the Predator universe a bit, as the sport of the alien hunter blends in with the still-vital food webs of the American wilderness and with the technologically-driven, brutal exploitation of a different breed of extraterrestrial invaders is contrasted: The white man.

This kind of resourceful brand extension isn’t new territory for Trachtenberg, who somehow transformed a claustrophobic psychological thriller script into a sequel to a hit monster film in 2016 without betraying its bottled B-movie charm 10 Cloverfield Lane. The fun and inventiveness of this film lay in how Trachtenberg would find a way to weave the previous title into the new one. With prey, he has achieved a mirror-inverted achievement: freeing the new film of all the ballast of a modern film series, right down to the title. All that’s left is his raw, ruthless spirit. Prey is a different beast from the latest franchise blockbusters

Charles Jones

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