Dan Trachtenberg is no stranger to making films connected to franchises. Look at his wickedly smart 10 Cloverfield Lane that offered a tense and controlled approach from the frantic found-footage of Cloverfield. Prey offers a unique entry into the Predator series. The film stands on its own but is also full of fun nods to the series, from a gun that was featured in Predator 2 to the intricate hunting that made John McTiernan's 1987 original such a classic.
Set in 1719 somewhere in the Great Plains, Prey centers around the Comanche Nation just before French fur trappers begin to invade their land. Young Naru (Amber Midthunder) seeks validation as a hunter and warrior. The male-dominated tribe has trouble accepting this. Her older brother (Dakota Beavers) is somewhat supportive in private but passive around the other hunters. We learn quickly that Naru is likely the only one of them smart enough to realize something is hunting them.
Midthunder makes for a fantastic action star. She is completely believable as a warrior worthy of standing up to Arnold or the Predator. The fact that she is a woman makes Prey the unique Predator film with something to say. Naru has to be a credible match here and Midthunder never fails to show the cunning and strength needed to make the character work.
As mentioned, it is Naru who first picks up on the presence of the Predator. When a Comanche warrior goes missing, a party goes out to find him assuming they will be up against a mountain lion. Little do they know what they are up against. Naru and her dog are left behind but quickly go on a journey to warn her brother. The canine actors here give a wonderful performance as well. What follows is an hour of intense hunting, full of striking action set pieces. It should be mentioned that the new design for the Predator honors the original design while still being distinctly different from it.
Those action set pieces are the film's real pleasure. Prey kicks into high gear early on and never lets up. Jeff Cutter's cinematography captures the action in a myriad of clever ways. Overhead shots, stunning wide vistas, and moody lighting make every moment pop with beauty. The heart-pounding climax set in the trapper's camp is full of smoke and fog, used wonderfully to heighten the suspense.
Everyone here is doing great work including screenwriter Patrick Aison. He turns the table here making the Predator the prey as much as the hunter. The messaging woven in that Naru is never seen as a threat and therefore able to use that to her advantage is never heavy-handed. It works both as a message and as a key strategy to the action scenes. Prey is gory, thrilling, and smart.