I have no particular affinity for the Predator franchise, and it seems I missed a whole passel of sequels since watching the Arnold Schwarzenegger original back in 1987. It took overwhelming buzz, but Prey (2022) drove me back to the series; now streaming on Hulu, this one refused to be ignored, and lives up to the buzz.
Set in the early 1700s in North America’s upper midwest, the film follows a Comanche warrior-in-training, Naru (Amber Midthunder), who is working to buck the traditional gender roles of her tribe and become a hunter. One day, she witnesses a flash of light in the sky, which she interprets to be a sign from above: it’s time to prove herself. It’s not, of course, but that’s exactly what ends up happening. Later, when she joins a rescue party to find another hunter who’s been taken by a mountain lion, her tracking skills put her onto the scent of the alien predator – who arrived in the spaceship she doesn’t realize she witnessed – leading to a fateful, violent, and dramatic conflict.
If you’re looking for something super profound, Prey probably won’t satisfy, but as survivalist action tales go, it is absolutely first rate. Situating its science fictional concept in a historical setting gives it a striking cross-genre vibe, and the sprawling, untouched landscapes of Canada provide a gorgeous backdrop, from the slow-build of Naru’s dawning realizations to the intense, desperate action. Midthunder, who built solid action hero chops on Legion – which I’ve been rewatching recently and remains an astonishing piece of work, incidentally – perfects them here. And Naru’s story doesn’t just pit her against the predator, but against the prejudices of her culture and the threats posed by rapacious foreigners. All of these conflicts give Midthunder a real chance to shine, and she’s supported by a cast of Indigenous American actors, most notably Dakota Beavers as her supportive brother Taabe. Naturally, the film is marked by the graphic violence that is part and parcel with this franchise, and the plot, while well executed, is ultimately simplistic. But Prey elevates its scenario into something memorable, adding a compelling coming-of-age framework to the requisite violent spectacle. As science fiction action flicks go, it doesn’t get much better.