A bold new concept gives the franchise a surprisingly successful return to form.

Despite its status as a classic, The PREDATOR series may be the most inconsistent sci-fi/horror/action series out there. The first film, an 80’s action romp dripping with almost as much testosterone as it is blood and guts, works well set in a danger-ridden jungle where its titular creature hunts what was at the time perceived as our planet’s apex predator: the caricatured all-American-soldier-action-star. The second film brings the battle to civilization to less effect but does a great job of establishing a good amount of lore within the franchise (and subtly connects it to the ALIEN universe via a Xenomorph skull Easter egg.) I’ll admit I completely missed the third installment, 2010’s PREDATORS (…I think a lot of people missed it, actually,) but I did see the 4th film—the forgettable “reboot(?),” lazily entitled THE PREDATOR (I’m choosing to ignore the ALIEN VS PREDATOR movies completely, and you should too).

The original PREDATOR left a huge impact on me. It was one of those movies that would play late at night on TNT or TBS from time to time in its edited-for-television format. I remember seeing it as a kid and being convinced that this terrifying, hideous killing machine had turned invisible and was ready to hunt me down in my backyard, as though my frail, pre-adolescent stature would be of any interest to a bloodthirsty interstellar warrior on the hunt for a worthy opponent in battle. It wasn’t until I was much older and rewatched it in its full, uncensored glory that I could appreciate the action-packed gore-fest that it really is. The premise was simple, but besides an otherworldly Predator and guerrilla terrorists, the deadly jungle setting adds to the danger and tension. The Predator “uses the jungle” to camouflage and its Dutch’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) clever use of the jungle to defeat the foe that leaves the audience cheering.

The latest installment, PREY, returns the franchise to these roots, but in a very unexpected place and time. In what is perceived to be the Predator species’ first visit to Earth in 1719, it arrives in America’s Great Northern Plains, locally inhabited by a Comanche tribe. This return to a dangerous wilderness is what the franchise has sorely missed. While the Predator seeks out a battle with Earth’s apex predator, the tribe recognizes the difference between hunting and survival, and this play on the differences between predator and prey is cleverly explored throughout the film.

There’s no doubt this movie sets a new precedent for Indigenous People in film, however, some controversy lies around the use of the Comanche language throughout. While it’s filmed mostly in English, a Comanche dub (voiced by the actual film actors) does exist, as well as a Comanche-subtitled version. I believe the film would have been more immersive if the filmmakers had made the bold choice to simply film the movie in Comanche from the start. I understand the common layman movie-goer is not interested in subtitles, but there is a certain cadence, tone, and vocal fry used by modern English speakers that are unavoidably noticed throughout the movie. I’m not asking for stereotypical Indigenous People accents, but a little work on not delivering lines in such a modern tone would have really improved the film. Or, you know, just film it in Comanche and be applauded for a brave statement.

Regardless, the film is full of very strong performances. Breakout star Amber Midthunder plays Naru, a young aspiring hunter who wants more than the path that’s set for her as a female member of the tribe. Despite the aforementioned modern vocal cadence, there is impressive subtlety in her facial expressions—particularly in her eyes—as she cleverly observes her surroundings and utilizes them in her own fight for survival. She’s excellent. Her brother, Taabe (cinematic newcomer Dakota Beavers), is convincing as the proud but caring older sibling. They share a good amount of chemistry. I must also mention Dane DiLiegro, whose 6’9” stature perfectly captures the Predator’s menacing physique. His may be the first performance in the franchise I’ve actually taken notice of as more than just a stuntman in a suit—the creature is very believable. Other effective elements of the film include sound (or lack thereof at times) and cinematography. Additionally, an exquisite use of blood, guts, and gore (effectively seen both onscreen and off at times) works in the film’s favor. There are moments where it should be perceived as over-the-top, but it delivers extremely well throughout. The film feels fresh and yet also feels like it belongs in the same cinematic universe as the original.

The utilization of a female lead works wonders for the often toxically-macho franchise. The film doesn’t shy away from stereotypes of female roles within a community, and rather than giving our femme hero “manly” qualities to make her a worthy foe to the creature, it leans into her strengths as a woman…namely the mistake of not being perceived as a threat. This is a point the film makes that a lot of misogynist online “fanboy” trolls are missing: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” Then again, I wouldn’t expect any of them to be familiar with Shakespeare.

Honestly, I’m so pleased with this installment I wouldn’t mind it being a stand-alone, but due to its rampant success (it’s now HULU’s biggest premiere of any film or TV show to date), I can see how a sequel could very well manifest. Let’s “prey” they don’t mess it up.

PREY is available to watch on HULU.

Ricky J Duarte

[He/him/his] Ricky is an actor, singer, and writer in New York City. Passions include: theme parks, Disney villains, and watching horror movies with his cat. He's also the host of the Rick or Treat Horrorcast podcast. www.RickOrTreat.com

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