Prey Review: A back-to-basics Predator movie in style, ready to stream

Before Disney bought 20th Century Fox in 2017, the film studio was known as a purveyor of long-lived genre films like the Alien, Predator, and X-Men series — and also as a disruptive cost-cutter characterized by its willingness to pull the trigger Action sequences in generic parking lots and Canadian forests. (See The darkest minds, Electraor X Men: The Last Stand, among many others, for examples of the Fox aesthetic at its worst.) These shouts were not mutually exclusive; Sometimes a Fox film would strike a comfortable balance between muscular thrills and relative limitations, such as: The Wolverinea smaller superhero film that makes impressive use of its initial, woody setting.

prey is the latest Fox production, capturing both sides of this Fox story while also hinting at the studio’s new identity as Disney’s proprietary content mill for Hulu. The latest entry in the Predator franchise, which began in 1987, is a stripped down version of the usual sci-fi hunt that comes straight to Hulu without hitting theaters first.

At first glance, sending a new Predator movie straight to streaming makes sense. Like many R-rated sci-fi shows, this one hasn’t been popular in years. 2010s predators and 2018 The robber proved that the series still has loyal fans, but also showed that the audience is relatively small. prey Try to bring the series even further back to its roots than those movies – not that of the other Predator Movies have strayed particularly far from the formula of giant, masked, mandibular-faced alien monsters chasing down humans who eventually fight back.

Naru (Amber Midthunder) explores her forest in Prey at night with a torch

Photo: David Bukach/20th Century Studios

Still, there’s an admirable minimalism to the idea of ​​a prequel, one that stretches so far back in time that the franchise’s previous characters won’t be born for hundreds of years. prey Set on the Great Plains of North America in 1719, it follows Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche woman desperate to undergo the training rites to become a huntress for her tribe. Her family and fellow tribesmen are predictably divided over her readiness for the task, encouraging her to help her people in other ways. But when a series of mysterious signs indicate that an unknown creature is stalking her territory, only Naru is ready to hunt her down.

prey‘s early scenes flirt with minimalism without fully committing to it. Naru trains in solitude with a specially crafted weapon—a throwing ax that makes her recoverable by tying it to a rope—and she fulfills her tribal duties alongside her loyal canine buddy. Meanwhile, an 18th-century Predator comes to Earth and explores the Great Plains, mostly by observing smaller predators in action and then taking them out. (Seems like easy prey for an 8-foot alien with technology way out of this world, but apparently this is the Predator equivalent of a tourist checking out local restaurants.) Eventually, paths cross more directly.

Before that inevitable, satisfying clash, prey makes some concessions to the less adventurous audience. Rather than making full use of a Comanche language or simply avoiding dialogue whenever possible, the native characters speak mostly in English, a slang that sounds suspiciously like contemporary screenwriters who tiptoe around their incompetence (or unwillingness). to approach something older and less immediately familiar . This is part of a larger pattern: Whenever the film has an opportunity to hold back for a scene or even a moment that plays out a little more lyrically or mysteriously, director and co-writer Dan Trachtenberg tends to interrupt himself. He may be out there in the woods, but he’s not exactly communing with the spirit of Terrence Malick.

Members of Naru's tribe line up in Prey and yell at something off-screen

Photo: 20th Century Studios

Trachtenberg, who ran the similarly stripped-down franchise expansion 10 Cloverfield Lanehas a great deal to offer prey: efficiency. This is a movie about a young woman on a collision course with a breakneck alien guy in a cool skull mask. The other members of Naru’s tribe are there to say no and/or become predator fodder. A late arriving group of fur traders are also offering some huntable corpses. Trachtenberg finds ways to show off the efficiencies of her brief, short life in a snappy way: he sets up action with overhead shots, sometimes from high up for amateurish shots, and other times he gives the camera just enough room for a full view of obstacles like one in particular sticky mud pit.

He also makes best use of the Predator’s neon green blood in the series as an accent color against the more muted, natural tones of the film set. The action itself is shot cleanly and clearly. One scene where Naru takes on the fur traders is particularly impressive considering it’s not about the film’s iconic monster.

Both the strengths and weaknesses of prey put a lot of pressure on Midthunder and play the only person in the film who isn’t there just for narrative convenience. She delivers a charismatic, athletic performance and stands out on screen with her alert, expressive eyes highlighted by tribal make-up. What sets them apart from heroes of the past predator Films is directly telegraphed in dialogue when her brother questions her desire to prove herself: “You want to hunt something that hunts you?”

He’s not talking about the Predator at this point, but he might as well. When the time comes, Naru must actively search for the alien, who never identifies her as an adversary worthy of hunting. Like everyone else, the Predator underestimates Naru and keeps an eye on more conspicuous, less worthy prey. The simplicity of “women can kill just as well as men” threatens to turn Naru into a Predator-fighting, bloodthirsty boss, but the matter-of-fact tussle of Midthunder’s performance prevents that from happening.

It would be easy to overdo it prey because it’s a direct-to-stream movie that could have made it onto the big screen. It’s about as good as the other predator Movies rather than being groundbreaking revelation. However, it’s a shame Disney didn’t opt ​​for a simultaneous theatrical and streaming release, given this August is a relatively barren month for broad releases. This film would make good summer drive-in fodder, in the tradition of some recent non-Fox women-versus-nature features like Crawl or The Shallows.

Naru (Amber Midthunder) faces the Predator in Prey

Photo: David Bukach/20th Century Studios

Summertime entertainment that actually functions as an exciting, no-frills B-movie isn’t an area that the modern version of Big Disney typically explores. It’s probably too much to hope that the Fox acquisition would diversify the types of films Disney makes instead of simply scraping another group of titles from the release schedule.

Maybe that’s why prey doesn’t feel shameless, although in theory it embodies everything that’s boring and unspectacular about big-studio filmmaking: a franchise expansion, traded from one subsidiary to another to evoke nostalgia and Easter egg hunts. (Note: In addition to the mandatory predator dialogue riff, there is a connection to predator 2 also in progress.) Trachtenberg’s film exerts the elemental appeal of watching sci-fi/horror oddities push the boundaries of the human-versus-nature conflict. prey does not worship the past – not its country, studio, genre or franchise. But it has a keen understanding of its place in all of these stories.

prey debuts August 5 on Hulu. Prey Review: A back-to-basics Predator movie in style, ready to stream

Charles Jones

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