How do you solve a problem like the Predator? The intergalactic beastie from 1987’s Predator seemed primed for a long run of sequels, like fellow 80s movie monsters Freddy Krueger and even the Critters. The straightforward concept, involving a race of hunters who travel the galaxy hunting the best prey, could be applied to countless scenarios, especially when you’ve got a creature design from Stan Winston (with a friendly suggestion or two from James Cameron).
But every movie that has followed, including 2010’s pretty-good Predators, has struggled under the weight of the original film’s genre subversion. That movie’s shift from overheated 80s action film creature-feature horror remains legendary, and each successive film has struggled to find its own personality and voice.
So it’s all the more impressive that Prey shrugs off all that expectation to tell a lean action story that stands on its own. Written Patrick Aison and directed by 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Dan Trachtenberg, Prey eschews references to previous films (save for an unlikely wink toward Predator 2), focusing instead on a unique coming-of-age adventure. Set in the Great Plains of 1719, Prey stars Amber Mindhunter (Sahiya Nakota) as Naru, a Comanche woman who longs to step out of the shadow of her respected brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) and establish herself as a hunter. Convinced that something worse than a bear is terrorizing her tribe, Naru takes it upon herself to hunt this beast, only to discover one of the most dangerous threats.
Despite that sensational premise, Trachtenberg exercises an impressive amount of restraint. The movie takes its time, not only in establishing the bond between Naru and Taabe, but also in introducing the Predator to the world. Fully aware that audiences know what to expect from these films, Trachtenberg trades surprise for character-building. We watch as the Predator establishes itself on Earth, slowly building up from hunting snakes and wolves to bears and people. Cinematographer Jeff Cutter takes full advantage of the location shoot, filling the screen with so much natural beauty that it’s a shame that Prey is on Hulu instead of a big screen.
This isn’t to suggest that Prey is anything other than a full-fledged action movie. Tractenberg stages visceral fight scenes, clearly planned battles that pit Naru’s specially-designed weapons against the guns of French trackers and the Predator\’s impressive arsenal. While decidedly less gory than its predecessors, Prey never diminishes the cool factor, remaining well-aware that it’s a movie about a young warrior fighting a space monster with a mandible face. The Predator looks great, with early versions of the weaponry sported in previous films and a reliably ugly face. The CG used for animals such as bears and foxes is less convincing, but not enough to ruin the movie.
At 97 minutes with credits, Prey knows exactly what it is and wastes no time getting there. Without an ounce of fat slowing it down, no pretensions to philosophical quandaries, it establishes itself as the best Predator sequel thus far.