One of the elements of the Predator franchise that I absolutely love is how flexible it is. You can take the Predator and drop it into another genre, or another timeframe, and build a narrative around it quite easily. This is a lesson that the expanded universe learned really early on. Dark Horse made great use of this flexibility with some fantastic comics, and Titan Books published a brilliant anthology that played in the same sandbox.
This is something the films have never capitalized on despite Predator 2’s ending serving that potential up on a plate. To their credit, all the films after the original did try something different with Predator 2 dropping us into the cop genre, Predators took us to a different moon entirely and The Predator attempted to give the Predators a different objective rather than a hunt.
But it’s taken until Prey for the Predator franchise to try doing cinematically what the expanded universe has been doing so successfully for so long. Unlike Predators, unlike The Predator, I didn’t go into Prey with any concern over being disappointed. This wasn’t a production where I’d read previous drafts and had specific expectations going into it – to be confirmed, or completely turned around.
With Prey I was excited! It was a Predator film finally doing what I’d been wanting to see for so long, but never expecting to be able to. And what I found in Prey was far more than just a Predator going around rampaging people dressed in historic outfits. Prey is a complete package.
I loved this film. There’s so much to talk about with Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey that I just don’t know where to start! I will be discussing specifics within the film, so beware spoilers.
Prey is such a tight film! The focus is primarily on Amber Midthunder’s character Naru, with Dakota Beaver’s Taabe supporting. I love the narrow focus in Prey and it really lets the film just follow Naru. The flexibility of the Predator franchise comes not just in the time frame, or the genre you place the creature in, but in what you can do with the characters as well.
I think it would be fair to say that the Predator films aren’t well known for character development. I’d argue that most of the character development within the Predator films is around realizing the importance of teamwork, with Jerry from Predator 2 or Royce from Predators. It was really refreshing to see Prey actually devote time to a character arc that we see progress throughout the film and that is in Naru’s journey to prove herself.
And like much of what Prey tries to do, Naru’s desire to prove herself is something that is very primal. It’s a trait that I’m sure many of us share and have experienced throughout our lives. It’s identifiability at its core. I found it so cathartic to take this journey with Naru, to see her hone her skills and improve over her failures and finally succeed. When Naru is screaming in triumph and success at the end of the film, I’m right there with her.
Amber Midthunder did a fantastic job. A lot of Prey’s runtime is with minimal dialogue, or none at all, and the weight just falls on Midthunder’s shoulders to carry the film through her physicality and she absolutely nails it as far as I’m concerned.
I also really loved her chemistry with Dakota Beaver’s Taabe. It was such a believable and lovely brother/sister dynamic that I thought worked really well, and had me rooting for both of them. The film was very much theirs and both actors do tremendous work to carry it.
Ever since we saw Naru submerged in that mud-pit in the trailers, I had been expecting to see that factor into her character figuring out the classic “Predator sees via Infrared” moment. I was so very pleased with the way Prey subverted that expectation and worked the solution around Naru’s expertise of medicine – the Orange totsiyaa flower that lowered body temperature. Despite the film establishing this very early, I didn’t see it coming. Like the original Predator’s use of mud, this is an immensely exaggerated property but one that has basis in fact, and one that was very cleverly utilized by the film.
And, of course, we can’t talk about a Predator film without spending a chunk of time talking about the Predator! Dane DiLiegro is simply fantastic inside that Feral Predator suit. While Kyle Strauts is also credited as an Additional Predator, our understanding is that Dane reshot all the previous footage and everything on screen is his work.
Compared to the recent Predators and The Predator where we saw multiple Predators, there is just the singular Predator in Prey which gives us a lot more time to see Feral in action. Dane really brought grace, character and even intelligence (which I know is an odd thing to say considering he’s been christened as Feral) to the Predator that I think puts him up there with Ian Whyte.
There’s just something about that hatchet flip, or the way Feral observes the falling ash, or considers Naru when she gets caught in a bear-trap. I think Feral is my favourite portrayal of a Predator since Wolf.
I was especially fond of the way Feral moved during the fight with the wolf. The thoughtful consideration before crouching so low to the ground, giving him an almost animalistic profile. I’d really love to see Dane return to do more Predators.
Feral also seems to have the most choreographed fight sequences – next to Alien vs. Predator’s Celtic vs Grid, I think – that we’ve seen of any Predators. I can’t imagine that was easy for Dane to accomplish with the way that Feral’s costume was constructed with the performers head in the Predator’s neck, but the fights looked fantastic on screen. I was really impressed with the hand-to-hand combat!
Let’s talk Feral’s design. I absolutely freaking love the masked look! They went with such a minimalistic look to the costume this time, that just this bare minimum of armor and the massively prominent abs just highlighted this primitive take on the Predator.
I have such a huge soft spot for masks that incorporate trophies into them – I loved Berserker’s jawbone – as I think it adds a sense of character to their appearance. And I also love those open masks; Fire and Stone/Life and Death’s Ahab, and Alien vs. Predator’s Elder masks are some of my favourite. They’re impractical as hell as an actual mask, but I’ve always found that those designs really do scratch an aesthetic itch for me. Feral’s mask is easily one of my top 3 favourite movie masks.
Another element of that design that I especially liked is that we see the mandibles twitching outside of the mask. It’s not the typical way these open masks are designed, and I can see why they did it, to allow that movement and to see that extra sense of life and mood in the way the mandibles twitch. I also found it really gave you an added sense of what was going through the Predator’s mind during those scenes.
But I think they also contribute to one the small handful of issues I have with the film. As much as I loved Feral’s masked appearance, I really do not like him once that mask comes off. I realize it’s all aesthetic preference because ultimately it looks like a Predator, but the changes to the position of the mandible, the smaller head without the crown, the changing of the position of the eyes and the more prominent forehead (to emphasize the more primitive nature of the Predator) just doesn’t sit well with my preferences. It looks like a Predator, but it’s the most far removed design we’ve seen. It’s just a bridge too far for this particular fan’s tastes.
Another element of the Prey’s Predator that I thought was fantastic was in how they portrayed the older cloaking technology. The more stuttered and progressive nature of Feral’s cloak, the way it seems to follow a hexagonal pattern, and how it reacts to whenever the Predator interacts with something gives it the appearance of a much less effective system. (Though it does seem to work better against water).
In particular though, I especially enjoyed those close shots where the camera moves around the cloaked Predator, and you can see the skin tones and textures underneath the cloak as the camera angle changes. I really enjoyed how they handled that effect for Prey.
It would be fair to say that fans always go into new Predator films hoping that Alan Silvestri will make a return, to hear that familiar Predator themes. However, Prey leans away from that entirely, and to its strength I believe. For how much I always see fans hope for Alan Silvestri, I also always see them criticising the sequels for reusing elements from the older films.
Composer Sarah Schachner moves away from the traditional Predator themes and instead leans heavily into the time period instead, with the score focusing on Native American tribal musical with those fantastic wood instruments. Naru’s theme in particular is just beautiful.
But while the score focuses more on the original melodies and compositions, Schachner does hide the Predator “dud-dud–dud-da-dud-dud-dud” inside her score, at a much slower tempo within the strings that it’s almost invisible until it’s pointed out to you.
And while that musical through-line is something I have actually always enjoyed the Predator film, I think the decision to move away from that really helps Prey stand apart from the previous Predator films, giving it its own musical identity while also anchoring it further into the time setting.
The way that the tracks focused around the Predator all feel so intimidating and threatening. These shocking strings are used to great effect to give the film so much of a horror vibe when it comes to the Predator, something the film is trying to do in its visuals and the score especially emphasizes that.
We really need to shout out Dan Trachtenberg and director of photography Jeff Cutter’s eye with Prey. While the Predator films have always been set within large environments like a jungle, a city and even an entire alien moon, the films have always emphasized a more claustrophobic visual style – which isn’t a criticism – so I found it particularly refreshing to see Prey embrace the huge landscapes of mountain-sides. It made the scope of the film look so much larger.
I’m a huge fan of the expanded universe. I love my comics and my novels, but I also knew as soon as I saw the date that Prey would be set at that we would be seeing Raphael Adolini’s flintlock pistol make an appearance in Prey. I also knew that it would be an entirely different take on the event, ignoring the events of the comic Predator: 1718.
I really enjoyed Prey’s take on the pistol. As cool as it would have been to see the flintlock armed pirates going up against a Predator, Prey’s sequence with the French fur trappers was just as – if not more – satisfying to me.
It also offers more history to that pistol, as not only is it now a relic that was instrumental in the defeat of the Feral Predator, but there’s the potential follow-up which would have to deal with how the pistol comes into the hands of Greyback. I was so glad that Prey didn’t try to shoehorn this into the end of the film, instead leaving it open for potential sequels – whether they be in films, or once against in the expanded universe, or just left to our imaginations.
One of the few problems I have with the film was in how the final battle was handled and that was mainly around how the Bolt Gun – the speargun – was incorporated. I thought it was fantastic that Naru determined how the Predator weaponry worked, and to turn it against Feral, but I also thought that the finished film seemed to make the Predator not understand how his weaponry worked.
The boltgun’s projectiles followed the track of the laser targeting system. Naru observes and uses this to defeat the Predator by stealing his mask and setting up a kill zone that leads to the Predator using the weapon and ultimately kill himself. The problem with the way Prey portrayed this was that it seemed like the weapon wasn’t particularly effective without that tracking, and makes it seem like the Feral Predator didn’t understand its own equipment through the repeated reuse of it while not wearing the mask.
It took rewatching the film to note that the bolts had some forward momentum before the tracking kicked in, meaning that the weapon could be used against targets at close range prior to the tracking taking over but this was easy to miss. I think it would have been to the benefit of the film to make a show of the helmet taking control, or have Feral attempt to override the controls.
Aside from Feral’s unmasked design, and some confusion regarding the ending, the others issues I had with the film are very minor. Prey re-uses iconic lines from the original Predator and this re-use of dialogue is something I am never going to enjoy. Fortunately, there was only one prominent part but the re-use did what it always does and pulled me right out of the film for the moment. I also thought that some of the dialogue felt a little too modern – would the Comanche really use the phrase “bring it home?”
Prey is such a tightly and competently put together film that demonstrates what I love so much about the Predator franchise – the flexibility – and have been dying to see happen on the screen. It’s like Dan Trachtenberg and writer Patrick Aison reached into my mind and pulled all the elements I loved about Predator and put them into a film specifically for me. It’s a live action Dark Horse comic.
I really hope that Disney and 20th Century Studios take advantage of Prey’s popularity and explore what more they can do with Predator and the type of stories they can use it to tell. Please give us a Predator film set in a World War, give us something with Samurai or even animated shorts focusing on the Predators themselves!
There’s much more gold to be mined out of the Predator, and Prey has reminded us of this.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Dan Trachtenberg has saved the Predator franchise. He has reminded everyone that Predator has something to offer the people watching these films, and the people making them. And with that I end this review thanking everyone involved in making Prey a reality. I hope to see you return for more.