Hard truth: As cool as Predator’s design is, the monster’s cinematic appeal has long made it a mediocre franchise, from a cringe-filled sequel to two boring “Alien.” So the idea of an origin story felt like a must, just another attempt to keep the IP from vanishing into the ether.
But Hulu’s “Prey,” a “Predator” prequel set in the Comanche nation 300 years ago, draws on a familiar action-horror premise to create something remarkable. I hate the term “high” in reference to horror cinema; it’s a poor euphemism for avoiding the lowbrow baggage of the horror genre.
“Prey” is just horror at its best, which can be fine when the filmmakers take what such films can offer seriously. That said, this one doesn’t play like your typical girlish finale horror story, introducing a helpless woman who must find her strength in the third act.
Instead, Naru (Amber Midthunder) seeks out her own prey as a rite of passage. Other tribesmen might prefer her to stick to medicine, let the men hunt, but she has none of that. At first, a local cougar stirs up trouble, but she witnesses something she can’t explain.
Despite the skeptics, she sets out on her own to discern the truth. For anyone familiar with the previous “Predator” movies, there are plenty of fan-favorite tropes adorning the screen. The often invisible antagonist kills a few carnivorous species, taking their heads as trophies. He quietly observes the human and other surroundings like a voyeur until he decides to attack any perceived aggressor who can test his strength.
We all know that. What is new, however, is the frame. This is a sci-fi horror play starring an aboriginal action heroine. And it has been praised for its focus on historical accuracy, thanks to second feature director Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”), the mostly Native American and First Nations cast, and producer Jhane Myers, who is Comanche and Blackfeet, as the film‘s main. authenticity advisor.
It’s a perfect storm of attention to detail and expert cinematic production. Everything works from performance to Predator design (except for a few obvious CGI animals).
So is it better than the movie that gave us “Get to the choppa?” Different films at different times. The original enjoyed that rock score, originality of the premise, amazing suspense, and everything in between. Some things have, frankly, aged badly, like the weird ’80s fixation with tough, masculine bodies and lots of campy one-liners.
We accept them out of nostalgia, and that’s fine. But the passion, artistry, and care that goes into every frame of “Prey” casts the entire franchise in a new and brighter light. And Midthunder (“Legion”, “Roswell, New Mexico”) is an incredible choice to lead this crazy ride.
For Midthunder, a member of the Fort Peck Sioux, directing a franchise film is revolutionary in itself. But it’s also a Hulu release, not a theatrical release. Studios always seem scared of anything that breaks the mould. Just ask the folks at Warner Bros. who recently shelved a “Batgirl” movie after dropping $90 million on it.
It’s the biggest tragedy here. Hulu claims it’s a smash hit, but doesn’t release any numbers (so deal with it as you wish). But if this one hit the big screen, with a little more support from 20th Century Studios and Disney overlord, it could have been even more groundbreaking and profitable for the team.
Streaming may boast of easy access, but a movie like this is a stark reminder that good ideas run away from the cineplex. Tragic big picture aside, “Prey” is a rare victory on so many fronts.
For a movie like this to succeed — we’re talking record-breaking streaming numbers on Hulu (if true) and near-universal critical acclaim — it’s clear that the old rules need not apply. Previously, the deal was that once a movie series passed three episodes, it was a hopeless cause. “Prey” thwarts that expectation, proving that a fifth episode (seventh if you count those wretched crossovers) can add heart to a thrilling tale.