Dan Trachtenberg | 1hr 39min
In an age when endless reheats of cinematic intellectual property feebly cater to the most conventional audience expectations, this Predator prequel, Prey, is entirely refreshing to see, building a new world with its own rules around the deadly creature at the franchise’s core. There is no need to complicate the simple concept of an extra-terrestrial hunting humans for sport – for all intents and purposes, the only real twist here is that which blends the science-fiction premise with a historical time period, landing the monster in the Northern Great Plains of 1719. It is through the region’s fields, forests, and swamps that one Comanche woman, Naru, suspicious of some unfamiliar threat lurking in the wilderness, sets out from her village to prove herself a capable hunter.
This assorted blend of genres offers up some wonderful opportunities for director Dan Trachtenberg to flex his creativity, musically fusing tribal chants and percussion with electronic sounds to underscore the primary conflict at play here. Even more astounding is the enchanting beauty with which he captures the lush woodlands and grassland panoramas that Naru and her fellow tribesmen venture across, often caught in magnificent helicopter shots that offer up an awed reverence.
At times, Trachtenberg even seems to be drawing direct comparisons to The Searchers, not just in those shots which turn the entry of tepees into gorgeous frames separating darkened interiors from the bright outdoors, but it is even present in one scene which offers a gruesome twist on the field of bison John Wayne once came across in Comanche territory. In terms of more contemporary influences, The Revenant also looms large here. Trachtenberg skilfully manipulates natural lighting through campfires and ashy, grey fog in many scenes, but he also relishes those dialogue-free sequences which push his narrative forward, seeing Naru silently navigate forests and, at one point, even fend off a violent bear attack.
Above all else though, this film is a survival story built on the primal relationship between a hunter and its prey, developing the Predator as an otherworldly extension of the animal kingdom. When Trachtenberg briefly leaves Naru’s storyline to watch a mouse eat an ant, a snake devour the mouse, and the Predator spear the snake, he economically sets it up as a beast looking to assert its position atop the food chain by defeating whatever it deems the most dominant creature in an ecosystem. As others try to kill it, Trachtenberg uses our knowledge of this to suspensefully anticipate their downfalls – one man is marked for dead the moment he kills a possum, and we can see the clear flaws in the plans of some French voyageurs who believe they can tie up Naru and use her as bait. The Predator inadvertently saves her life more than once in situations such as these when she is under immediate threat from others, but in doing so it also inadvertently reveals its pattern of behaviour to her for easy manipulation later on.
After all, this is what it means to be a hunter, Prey importantly realises. It is not about being the strongest or possessing the most advanced technology, but as Naru proves, resourcefulness, patience, and an ability to scope out one’s enemies are far more valuable qualities for survival and dominance in the natural world. As we approach the climactic showdown between human and alien, Trachtenberg economically works back in elements of the environment that almost defeated Naru earlier, and true to her character, shows her cunningly use these against her target. Really, the film’s title could very well refer to the Predator itself as much as it does Naru, her tribesmen, or any number of animals we see slaughtered by more competent beings. Whether one accepts that position in a food chain or not ultimately comes down to whether they are capable and willing to force it upon others instead.
Prey is currently streaming on Disney Plus.