Prey (2022, Dan Trachtenberg)

Prey is roughly thirty years late. It’s a Predator prequel with ties to the existing franchise (mainly the second one), but it’s a conceptual no-brainer and one they’ve been doing in the Predator licensed comics for decades. The movies established the Predators had been to Earth before, so why not show one of their earlier encounters? Of course, obviously, anthology series never work; studio reticence makes sense. It’s still a no-brainer.

The film takes place in the eighteenth century on the Northern Great Plains. A Comanche tribe happens across a visiting Predator and, thanks to the ingenuity of a (shouldn’t have been) unexpected hero, survives to tell the tale. And tie into the future continuity.

Amber Midthunder is the unexpected hero, though she’s only the unexpected hero to the tribe. Especially once big brother Dakota Beavers rather shittily reveals he’s been cribbing off Midthunder’s notes their whole lives and taking credit for the synthesis. Her brains, his brawn; well, specifically his male brawn. Midthunder’s a capable hunter, but she’s still a girl. Can’t give the girls too much to do; who else will get up early and go gather.

Beavers leads the tribe’s war party; about a half dozen other red shirts who don’t even care Midthunder knows how to track or treat wounds. Girls, icky bad. Beavers appreciates her contributions, occasionally letting his confidence buck cultural constraints, but he still treats her like competition, not a comrade. Prey could’ve used another six or seven minutes on their relationship, especially how their presumably deceased father figures in. Michelle Thrush plays their mom, but they don’t have any family scenes together, just Thrush and Midthunder, then Midthunder and Beavers, then Thrush observing Beavers’s successes as a hunter from a distance. There’d have been time for it (and not just because the end credits are a shocking eight and a half minutes, Prey desperate to get away from the ninety-minute mark like it’s a nineties action movie).

Even underdeveloped, Midthunder’s a strong enough lead—and Beavers is fine enough support—to keep Prey going through its first and second acts. The third act, when the film becomes the inevitable, rushed series of original Predator homages, is pretty good but never adds up for Midthunder. The problem with doing character development in a Predator movie is the formula doesn’t actually need any, and director Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison stick very much to the formula.

They just put another movie at the beginning of it.

Trachtenberg’s direction is always okay and sometimes inspired. Unfortunately, none of those inspired moments come in the third act. Despite four (or six, depending on how you count) precursor Predator movies, Trachtenberg’s got no fresh ideas for his homage sequence. It’s almost like they shouldn’t have done it. But still, always okay, sometimes inspired, never bad.

Lovely cinematography from Jeff Cutter, good music by Sarah Schachner, solid editing from Claudia Castello and Angela M. Catanzaro. Prey has a bunch of pastoral sequences, establishing Midthunder and her faithful dog (alternately the star and not the star of the show), but Trachtenberg hurries through them. At the film’s beginning, I was expecting Prey to go long with its Malick moments. But it doesn’t go anywhere near long enough with them.

Quibbles aside, Prey’s done more for the franchise than anything in decades. Hopefully, Disney’s better making movies about invisible alien monsters killing (mostly deserving) humans than Fox. They sure seem up to the task after this one.

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