With a franchise spanning 35 years, it's a surprise that there hasn't been a sequel to Predator that has come close to the quality and status of its original outing. There have been some fun moments along the way but the numerous sequels and spin-offs have largely been forgettable. Until Prey.
By going back-to-basics and setting the action in the Comanche Nation 300 years ago, director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted a killer prequel worthy of the Predator series. Thanks to great technical work, a revelatory performance from Amber Midthunder and a fantastic Predator redesign, Prey is just as good – possibly even better – than the iconic flick that started it all.
The story is simple but effectively engaging. Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a young but skilled warrior looking to prove to her people – and herself – that she's a capable hunter. It doesn't take long for the Predator to crash land in the Great Plains of North America and start causing havoc, leading Naru to track down and hunt the alien threat. Obviously she has no idea what she's up against, and what ensures is Naru surviving set-piece after set-piece and facing off against this powerful adversary.
What immediately sets Prey ahead of Predator in terms of quality is in its protagonist. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Dutch lacks a character arc and is a one-note, gun-wielding army bro. Naru, on the other hand, has real personal stakes and is far more endearing than anyone in the franchise's original film. She's a resourceful young warrior, crafting upgrades to her weaponry and concocting herbal remedies. Naru is a survivor who is clearly capable but is yet to convince her family and tribe. Her spunk and charisma makes you root for Naru but she's clearly still got a few lessons to learn and has some nerve-wracking close calls with death.
Naru is only so likeable thanks to Midthunder's performance. She has the charm of a confident young warrior, the emotional nuances of a survivor in dire situations, and the physical capabilities of a bona fide action star. The range Midthunder shows off in a 100 minute Predator film is outstanding, and she deserves to bag more leading roles going forward.
Another stand-out character that makes Prey such a treat is The Predator itself. By setting the story hundreds of years in the past, the crew get the opportunity to explore some fresh ideas and thankfully they deliver. The new design is more primal and a little more out there compared to previous iterations which makes The Predator truly frightening. There are some fun twists to its recognisable arsenal of high-tech weaponry that will keep fans of the series on their toes which also neatly tie into the time period. What makes The Predator so fun to watch is Dane DiLiegro's terrific body performance, which leads to some refreshingly funny moments but ultimately makes the hunter more frightening than ever.
Even with two deadly warriors going toe to toe with each other, Prey is surprisingly gore-free. There are some inventive and bloody kills to enjoy for sure, but the camera cuts away from anything too extreme far too often. The film might have a 16+ rating but Prey feels like the least bloody of the franchise outside of any spin-offs. Gore-hounds will be disappointed but thankfully some impressive set pieces and sequences deliver thrills in abundance.
The biggest disappointment with Prey, however, is the lack of a big screen release. It's a mystery as to why this is going straight to streaming when the action beats and sound design make this an absolute blast to watch in a packed screening. The Predator's unnerving clicks and roars blasting out in surround sound are sure to send chills down your spine, and the soundscape in general really emphasises the quietness of the natural environment. The sound designers brilliantly throw audiences off guard with twig snaps and animal movements, putting you in the shoes of a Comanche hunter becoming the hunted. Visually it can be stunning at times too, with some gorgeous scenery and cinematography.
Although Prey will skip out on a theatrical release, it's still absolutely worth watching at home. Fans of the series will be treated to a terrifyingly awesome Predator prequel that feels fresh and original, and newcomers get to enjoy a coming-of-age thrill ride with a stellar leading performance. Only time will tell to see whether Prey matches Predator's status as an iconic classic, but it certainly has all the right ingredients to get there.
Prey is available on Disney+ from August 5th.