Once in a while, a movie came along that made you willing to step out of your comfort zone. I’ve never actually seen any of the movies, not even the 1987 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger and former MN governator Jesse Ventura! I think I’ve only seen clips of it where Ventura is on screen, that’s about it. Somehow I’ve just never been intrigued to see it, that is until now.
The seventh installment of the Predator franchise, PREY is marketed as an origin story where the alien creature Predator first arrived, or got dropped on earth, which happens to be in the world of Comanche Nation in 1719. It centers on Naru (Amber Midthunder), who’s trained as a healer by her mother, but dreams of being a great hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers).
As a young woman of the 1700s, she’s constantly being underestimated and having to prove herself that she’s just as good as the boys. The movie takes its time to introduce us to Naru and the world she lives in before the Predator wreack havoc on the Great Plains. I like the scene where Naru and her loyal dog Sarii diligently train flinging around her tomahawk and fastening a rope to it which later proves to be one of her key tools of survival. She sure is a skilled female warrior but her power is earned, not simply given or miraculously ingrained in her like so many superheroes on screen today.
It’s always commendable when a filmmaker can breathe a new life into a popular franchise that might’ve gone stale, and setting the story in Comanche Nation doesn’t feel forced. It’s a back-to-basics action adventure horror movie that relies more on fighting tactics and strategy, as our petite heroine must use her brain instead of brute force or automatic weaponry to defeat one of the first highly-evolved aliens who hunt humans for sport. As the movie progresses, we see just how resourceful and creative Naru can be when her life depended on it, such as escaping from a mud pit on her own and when she’s captured by French trappers.
I had to close my eyes during some of the really gruesome scenes, particularly when she takes out a whole gang of French trappers with her phenomenal tomahaw-slinging ability. But for the most part, it’s thrilling to see her keenly observe and actually study the Predator’s behavior in order to beat him at its own game. Amber Midthunder is phenomenal as Naru, whom I first saw in Liam Neeson’s actioner The Ice Road where she’s easily the scene stealer. She’s obviously badass in all the action scenes but there’s also a compelling vulnerability that makes her relatable somehow.
On top of her strong survival skills, she grows more confident in her own power and self-worth. I love the scene where some of the boys from her tribe get into a physical altercation with her in order to get her home, surely she’s not going to just take their bullying lying down. This is Dakota Beavers’ debut feature and I think he did a pretty good job despite his lack of acting experience. He handles the physical role very well and he clearly got some excellent horsemanship.
When I first saw the Predator on screen, I thought there was no way any human, even the most well-equipped army, would ever stand a chance against a single Predator. I mean, it’s not only massive in size (former basketball player Dane DiLiegro who plays the Predator, is 6’9”!) but it also has alien-tech weaponry including a laser-targeting device… plus it can be invisible!! I kept thinking this thing is just way too powerful! But yet, Naru’s resourcefulness, tenacity, and astute observation prove that she can be a potent force to be reckoned with. I also read that she uses a technique in her fighting strategy that is supposedly taboo in Comanche culture. The filmmakers really used the cultural aspect in a clever way that works for the story, but also honors the Native people themselves.
This is Dan Trachtenberg‘s sophomore feature after 10 Cloverfield Lane, and apparently, he and screenwriter Patrick Aison had pitched the idea for this movie back in 2016. This movie moves the needle forward a bit in terms of Indigenous representation while making the most of the terrain and limitations of that time period. Shot in Calgary, Canada, the visuals is beautiful, I love the long shots where the people look so small against such majestic landscapes. The sound design is fantastic as well, which is crucial in amping up tension. There are plenty of fighting scenes to please fans of the franchise, and the final battle at night is quite a thrilling spectacle.
PREY is such a pleasant surprise and coming from a non-horror fan, that’s saying something. I’m glad I ventured out of my comfort zone to watch this one. As a newbie in the franchise, I appreciate the film as it is and I think it’s good enough as a standalone feature.
Have you seen PREY? What did you think?