Prey is the name of the newest film in the Predator series. It was originally shot under the name Skulls before Prey became the final title. The director was Dan Trachtenberg and the film was written by Patrick Aison. The film was released on the streaming platform Hulu in North America and Disney+ in the UK on August 5, 2022.
Set in the Comanche Nation 300 years ago, “Prey” is the story of a young woman, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled warrior. She has been raised in the shadow of some of the most legendary hunters who roam the Great Plains, so when danger threatens her camp, she sets out to protect her people. The prey she stalks, and ultimately confronts, turns out to be a highly evolved alien predator with a technically advanced arsenal, resulting in a vicious and terrifying showdown between the two adversaries.
- Amber Midthunder – Naru, the main character, a 15 year old Comanche girl.
- Dakota Beavers – Taabe, Naru’s 18 year old brother.
- Michelle Thrush – Aruka, Naru and Taabe’s mother.
- Dane DiLiegro – Feral Predator
- Stormee Kipp – Wasape, a Comanche hunter
- Julian Black Antelope as Chief Kehetu
- Bennett Taylor as Raphael Adolini, a French translator
Dan Trachtenberg, best known for directing 10 Cloverfield Lane, along with writer Patrick Aison, approached John Davis while 20th Century Fox was making 2018’s The Predator with an idea for a new Predator film. They couldn’t start production on a new film until they’d finished the previous one so there was a lot of secrecy. Trachtenberg and Aison continued to work on the story and Fox agreed to let them write it.
Prey was inspired by Sonny Landham’s character in the first Predator – Billy Sole, who was part Sioux himself. After they had written a couple of drafts, they met a Comanche woman called Juanita Pahdopony who helped figure out the film and improve the script. They then found producer Jhane Myers, another Comanche woman to produce the film. When Trachtenberg spoke to Jhane, he realised she had a lot in common with the main character Naru.
The project started out at 20th Century Fox and when Disney bought Fox, Trachtenberg was worried after the merger that the film may not happen. He then considered taking the story and not making it Predator-related but the themes and how the Predator relates to the character, it was a stronger film if it was in the Predator universe.
In May 2021, Amber Midthunder was announced as the main character and in November 2021, the title of the film was revealed as Prey and would come to Hulu and Disney+ internationally in mid-2022. The director said the film has a streaming movie budget but it has a very economical budget but not as big as 2018’s The Predator.
Trachtenberg did consider having the characters speak Comanche before switching to English, similar to how the characters in Hunt For Red October switch from Russian to English. They couldn’t quite make it work so the film was shot in English though some Comanche dialogue is spoken sporadically in the English version. The film was also dubbed in Comanche, with the original actors reprising their roles. You can listen to the Comanche version on Hulu and Disney+.
The Predator was nicknamed Feral Predator on set due to his animalistic behaviour in the film. The film’s special effects and Predator design were handled by Amalgamated Dynamics who worked on many previous Alien and Predator films. Trachtenberg remarked that the original Predator was very top-heavy and had a large head to accommodate the actor inside. Feral Predator had been refined with a more proportional head-to-body ratio and it is one of the slimmest, less armoured Predators to date.
Trachtenberg opted to remove the Predator’s signature shoulder cannon as he felt it would make the fight against the Comanche too easy though the Feral Predator does have a lot of new weapons. Trachtenberg was inspired by 2018’s God of War video game where Kratos uses a shield and wields an axe. The Feral Predator features a new shield weapon and Naru also makes a Tomahawk on a rope which is used throughout Prey.
Amber Midthunder originally read for the role over video conferencing. Midthunder and Dakota Beavers took part in a 4-week bootcamp before shooting which involved weapons training, Comanche-style archery, spears and tomahawks.
Filming on Prey was supposed to begin filming in May 2021 but was delayed. It began filming on June 7, 2021 in Calgary, Canada. Filming ended on Prey on September 11, 2021. The cinematographer was Jeff Cutter. They shot Prey on the ALEXA mini LF. They had a couple of LF minis, and then they shot some scenes with the Cooke 1.8 anamorphics. The super wide shots were very wide Sergio Leone Western standoff shots. Extensive priviz for the scenes were done by studio The Third Floor.
Cutter said the most difficult scene to film in terms of continuity was Feral attacking the French Trappers in the smoky forest. They previz’d it and figured out what works and what doesn’t. In the process of shooting they stayed pretty close to the previz. Initially, they wanted to shoot on a stage but after talking to the producer, it would have been too expensive with set extensions. Instead, the team shot the scene 45 minutes outside of Calgary over the course of eight days from sunrise to sunset.
There were smoke machines on the back of pickup trucks that were producing huge volumes of smoke. They had to work out which way the wind was blowing and move them around. Production designer Kara Lindstrom had built the forest which was 250ft x 250ft with about a hundred of those scorched trees. The smoke also blocked out the sun because the scene was supposed to be happening early morning.
Naru is accompanied by much of the film by her dog Sarii. There was some talk of having the dog being CG but in the end, they used a real dog. The only CG used was the removal of its leads and safety harness and the addition of a CG rat in its mouth. Trachtenberg always envisaged Naru and Sarii’s relationship as similar to the dog in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Sarii was played by a Carolina Dog called Coco who the crew found two months before they started shooting. Coco wasn’t a typical movie dog that had been trained for years and years – a Carolina dog was the closest breed of dog to what the Comanche Tribe would have had for the time period.
Moving Picture Company (MPC), Mr. X and Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) handled the visual effects. The crew wanted to use real animals where possible but given the tight shooting schedule and Disney’s strict animal policies, they had to create a long list of CGI animals. That left them with only a few companies that could create CGI animals in a short space of time. Mr. X handled the majority of shots where the Predator is cloaking and the following creatures: deer, rabbits, rats, snakes, ant, buffalo, mouse, hawk, fish, vultures, and opossums. MPC handled the bear, cougar and wolf creatures. Mark Renton, an in-house flame artist, handled the Predator vision shots and lots of other shots. There was also a shot of the Predator spaceship added at the last minute, which was done by ILM.
For the animations, they tried to base them on real-life behaviour of animals. For example, a lot of the bear’s performance fighting the Predator was based on library footage of real bears fighting. It’s fully CG in most cases while some of the plates were shot in a tank on a bluescreen on the backlot and some were shot on location. On top of that, they had to make sure the bear’s muscle and fat tissue reacted in a convincing way with the bear’s fur and the water. When filming, there was a man in a giant bear suit performing the clawing to help Midthunder perform in the scene.
As they couldn’t use animals, the best thing to do was to provide as much reference as possible including detailed previz for all the sequences as well as a stunt performer or puppeteer to provide eyeline and interaction for the actors. They had also printed life-size cutouts so that Trachtenberg could see them in relation to the actors.
A lot of the aerial shots were filmed in a drone so work had to be done to remove a lot of modern features and roads and to break up non-natural features like farmland and fences to make it feel like it was set in the 1700’s. Most of the aerial shots use digi-doubles of the Comanche warriors or of Naru and Sarii. When Naru confronts a mountain lion in a tree, that was a created environment. Trachtenberg wanted the characters and trees to be dark silhouettes and they couldn’t find the perfect location. That sequence was shot on blue screen. So the actors could see where the lion was, eyeline sticks were used. The wolf sequence was added late in the schedule and was filmed near Los Angeles so they added the rocky mountains into that environment. They intercut between a dog actor, dog performer and the CGI wolf.
The Predator was a combination of a practical suit built by ADI and CG to enhance the suit but some shots did have a fully CG Predator. The team built a full 3D Predator and started by using scan data and photography of the animatronic suit built by ADI. They replicated the suit and worked up areas that could be enhanced through the articulation of things that are hard to do in practical effects. They worked on the Predator hands and made them a bit thinner and improved their articulation. They also did some detailing work on the face to remove seams. They had CG versions of the Predator for a lot of the shots that featured the suit. This was done to support augmentations like removing seams, blood tracking and the Predator is covered in scars.
In some parts, they replaced parts of the Predator’s arms, hands and face while in other cases, the Predator was fully CG. They would begin the process by talking to Dane DiLiegro. Even when the Predator was cloaked, they would still have a plate or a mocap of DiLiegro in shots. Then it would involve the team working out which shots would require a full CG Predator and which would require a little bit of enhancement. Even in shots where there is a cloaked Predator, the team would still have a CG representation that they would have to either keyframe or use mocap or roto-animate and track into the shots.
For the Predator’s cloak, they decided that since the cloak was older technology, it would glitch like the technology has latency problems compared to future Predator cloaks. They experimented with a blue colour palette but Trachtenberg wanted it to be red as it would be more sinister-looking. The team did over 100 iterations before they found something Trachtenberg liked. The team looked closely at cuttlefish camouflage and old lenses, and went back through the older movies and looked at how the cloaking was accomplished such as using optical compositing on the first movie. They looked at all different colours and hex sizes and shapes.
For every shot in the film where the Predator is cloaked, there is a CG Predator underneath. Sometimes, it was hand-animated, while others were motion capture and in other cases they just matched it to the stunt performer. The Predator’s cloak in this film sits off the Predator’s skin so they procedurally generated a surface outside of the Predator and his equipment. They then used the 3D animation software Houdini to generate a number of passes that allowed them flexibility in compositing to reveal pieces of the Predator where energy surges through the cloak. When the Predator reveals himself and fights the Comanche warriors, that is a fully CG Predator with multiple iterations of making sure that things like weapon impacts reveal key parts of the Predator.
For the Predator’s classic vision, they wanted to do it optically where possible to stay true to the original film. They rented a FLIR thermal camera and built a makeshift optical beam splitter from a teleprompter so they could shoot footage on their production cameras and the FLIR thermal camera simultaneously. The beam splitter ensured the footage from both cameras were perfectly aligned in the same way it was done in the original film. Using Python scripting, they were able to extract the raw temperature data from the files that then could be combined with the Arri raw footage. They developed a HUD display and colour palette and all of the shots were completed in-house.
The final fight was a mixture of mostly on-location footage in Alberta with CG. It was a combination of five different takes using the strongest parts of the stunts and action which were seamlessly blended together. Midthunder did a lot of work towards the end but her stunt double Tami was used for the rest of the sequence so they had to do a number of CG face replacement shots. There was a CG Naru when she was jumping on the Predator from the tree. Most of the weapons including the shield in the fight are CG but there were a few practical knives. Because of the need to run multiple takes without time to change costumes, they did all the blood in CG.
Sarah Schachner composed the film’s score and the soundtrack album was released by Hollywood Records on August 5, 2022.
The first production still and the Prey logo was released in November 2021. It shows Amber Midthunder as “Naru” in her Comanche Nation garb, she appears to be stalking prey, armed with a bow and arrow. But looming in the fog behind her, an ominous Predator can be seen in the wilderness. The first teaser trailer was released May 16, 2022. A 2 minute 8-second trailer was released June 7, 2022 along with a new poster. A 30-second promo for the trailer was released June 8, 2022 with some new footage. Throughout July until its release, there were many promos, photos and new posters released via social media.
Prey was shown at the San Diego Comic-Con on July 21, 2022 to a few hundred fans. Director Dan Trachtenberg, producer Jhane Myers, actors Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers and Dane DiLiegro were in attendance and gave a Q&A before the film. The film had its premiere in the UK on July 26th, 2022 at the Vue West End in London. On August 2nd, 2022m Prey had its American premiere at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles, California. There were two special advance screenings at American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, California on August 4th. Co-presented by Beyond Fest, there was a Q&A session with the director Dan Trachtenberg and some of the cast members.
Upon Prey‘s release, reception from fans and the mainstream press was extremely positive. It currently has a rating of 94% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes based on 250 reviews. That’s the highest-rated Predator film and third-highest in the Alien and Predator franchise (after Alien and Aliens). Critics called Prey the best Predator film since the original and praised Amber Midthunder’s performance as Naru, the action set-pieces and Sarah Shachner’s score. Some of the criticism that Prey received was its overreliance on CGI.
IGN scored the film 8/10 praising the action and Amber Midthunder’s character.
Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey never lets up. It’s full of the Predator franchise’s trademark violence and tension, but it’s the ferocious, star-making turn from Amber Midthunder that stands as its greatest strength. The movie’s sole focus on her lead character, Naru, means that the supporting roster comes off a little wooden, but when Prey’s tracking the young warrior’s duel with the Predator — full of powerful imagery and creative kills — it rarely falters.
TheWrap gave it a positive review, praising the lead performances, the cinematography and Sarah Schachner’s thrilling score.
“Prey” is a glorious monster flick, a sly revisionist Western and a really cool “Predator” sequel for viewers who don’t mind a little fan service here and there. Trachtenberg has directed the hell out of one of the best monster movies in years, proving that there’s life in any horror franchise if you stick to what makes the central creature fascinating. And the Predator is, for the first time in years, genuinely fascinating.
Empire Magazine scored Prey 4/5 praising the inventive action.
With its ferocious heroine, authentic period setting, and a bloody string of inventive action beats (frantic flight through tall grass; pile-on in the ash-rain of a burned-out forest; heart-pounding confrontation with an ornery bear), Trachtenberg’s film breathes new life into a long-deflated series. At once pleasantly familiar and yet delightfully fresh, this is classic Predator artfully rejigged for 2022 — a shining example of how to take something old and make it new again.
Hulu Viewing Figures
While we don’t currently have exact viewing figures, on August 9, 2022, 20th Century Studios announced that Prey was the biggest premiere on Hulu including all movies and TV show debuts. Prey is also the most-watched film premiere on Star+ in Latin America and Disney+ under the Star banner in all other territories, based on hours watched in the first 3 days of its release.
Prey was released on 4K Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray and DVD on October 4, 2023. The set featured an audio commentary, making-of featurette, panel and three deleted scenes.
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