Dan Trachtenberg’s “Prey” is a prequel to “Predator” (1987), set 300 years earlier, where we witness a much earlier visitation to Earth from an extraterrestrial hunter with a love for collecting human skulls. This time, a warrior named Naru (played by breakout star Amber Midthunder) and her baffled-but-ready Comanche tribe are the ones who discover and confront a creature with camouflaging abilities and state-of-the-art weaponry unlike any on Earth.
Trachtenberg made a big splash with his terrific “10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016), which arrived without any online awareness (the surprise trailer was only a month ahead of its opening day) and wound up one of the best, most socially relevant thrillers of this century (in the age of the pandemic, it has only become even more immediate). “Prey” was another tah-dah unveiling, as no one expected this franchise to return anytime soon, especially after Shane Black’s lackluster “The Predator” (2018).
The new look of the Predator should please fans, as much as the nice visual cue that connects this to, of all things, the mostly awful “Predator 2” (1990). Despite the fresh setting and take on the story, “Prey” excels because it understands what made the original so good: the survivalist adventure angle, fueled with “Rambo” action and a mean sci-fi twist. Despite no major firepower here, “Prey” has more than enough kick. It’s also wicked fun, hands down the best of the “Predator” movies to date and a real out-of-nowhere summer sleeper that easily takes the crown as the best of the season. Don’t let the Hulu premiere fool you—this is a major league popcorn movie and essential viewing, even if you have no idea where the quotes, “Get to the choppa!” and “I ain’t got time to bleed” originate from.
The best passages of “Prey” are dialogue-free and breathtaking in the purity of its storytelling. This is a lushly visual movie—a plus for anyone watching this on a good-size screen, but a problem for those only able to watch it on their laptops or phone. While “Prey” may find its widest-possible viewing audience via the Hulu outreach, the majority of audiences are missing out on what would have been an event in theaters. “Prey” was among the 20th Century Studio films that were purchased by Hulu for a streaming premiere (the others include the Ben Affleck erotic thriller “Deep Water” and the Emma Thompson sex comedy “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”). Audiences should see “Prey” in whatever format they choose but this, along with “Top Gun: Maverick,” should be essential for a massive screen experience.
At a moment when representation is finally becoming a priority for most Hollywood blockbusters, “Prey” stands tall. The film was made with the cooperation of a Comanche tribe, boasts a cast of Native American actors, and depicts the tribal community with complexity and emotional layers. Although the cadence of the actors makes the dialogue sound modern (perhaps the film’s biggest flaw), the performances are passionate and committed. Best of all, the Comanche tribe provides our central protagonists and are not presented through the eyes of Caucasian outsiders. In fact, there are no Caucasian characters, a true rarity for a big-budget American film about indigenous people. The real trick would be for a major studio to produce a big-budget movie about Native Americans with no movie stars and no outer space monster, but this will do. If this is what progress looks like, at least it’s unexpected.
Trachtenberg has somehow made the seventh “Predator” movie something altogether new and welcome, as well as gritty, shocking and thrilling in equal measure. The less you know about it going in, the better. However, that final moment, suggesting not only a connection to the other films but an allegory for colonialism, is nearly perfect. “Prey” is violent, pulpy, and wonderful. Watch it tonight.