The year is 1719, the event is a hunt and all eyes are on Naru as she follows a trail of blood. All eyes except those of Naru herself. The hunter is instead looking toward a masked creature with dreads, fangs and a pair of claws. Yes, Predator is in town.
An alien from the planet Yautja, Predator is a creature who burst onto the scene when Arnold Schwarzenegger took him on in 1987's Predator. Since then, the beast has appeared in five sequels and lost most of his appeal. Now comes Prey, which moves the story to 1719 and benefits from the sure hand of Dan Trachtenberg, whose work includes Black Mirror, No Escape and 10 Cloverfield Lane, and from Amber Midthunder, who has never acted in a major role and who brings a volatile swagger to her part. Her Naru wants to be a hunter like the men in her tribe, but she gets more than she can handle when her first target turns out to be an alien.
That's about it in terms of plot: Naru proves her skills as she crosses the forest with an axe in one hand and a bow in the other. It's kind of like watching a rabbit chase a wolf--she's no match for this larger, more agile creature, but she's determined to mix up the food chain anyway. There's plenty of Naru vs. Predator duels along the way, along with plenty of obstacles to keep the fearless Naru on her toes. No alien on screen? Why not throw a bear her way? Or a wolf? Or a pile of quicksand?
Predator has always been about the action, and Prey is no different. The creature finds new ways to dismember his victims, whether we're in a forest, lake or camp. He tears into his prey like a lion does a piece of meat, using the same gadgets from previous installments just with less modern trappings, a clever way of placing us in an bygone era where guns are replaced by spears. If there's a quibble to be had, it's that the film's attention to detail seems divided between the action and the message, with not enough space to fully develop either. Naru is molded more like Ripley than she is Arnold, bringing a Girl Power message to the endless supply of fights. The kills are exceptionally bold and beautiful, but the tale of a woman shooting an arrow through gender norms is far less effective.
Still, Midthunder and the rest of the cast are exceptional, especially Dakota Beavers as Naru’s big brother Taabe. He's a really cool guy but a fearless leader, picking up the tools he needs to kill the beast and give Naru a chance to finish the job. After five grim sequels, it's nice to see one where our heroes end up on top.
Movie Score: 4/5