The Predator franchise may not have as large a following as other sci-fi sagas out there. You won’t see many heated debates over which era is better, like with Star Wars or Trek. Most fans of the science-fiction horror series pretty much agree that there’s no topping the first one. After a bizarrely toned sequel, and a barrage of crossover films where ole “Preddy” met Alien, the only one to come close to the crown was 2011’s Predators. That one saw a return to form for the series, returning it back to its jungle/forest roots and putting the human victims on a somewhat even playing field.
Still, Predators was more “same old same old,” and despite being a welcome palette cleanser for fans, it didn’t exactly progress the franchise forward in any notable way. Besides confirming that the scariest thing out there isn’t the Predator, but man. One man, Adrien Brody, to be exact. He wasn’t messing around.
Seven years later, The Predator (note the “The” was really popular for requel titling at this time) released to very low fanfare. It was supposed to be the chosen one, the Predator movie to unite us all. This one too boasted more of the same formula, which at this point was really putting “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to the test. Turns out that even if it ain’t broke, that doesn’t mean improvements can’t be made. But the Predator recipe is pretty tried and true. A bunch of chain smoking, testosterone sweating “dudez” pretending to be the universe’s deadliest animal come across the actual top of the food chain and have to fight for their survival. The original is a classic deconstruction of the beefy-boned, grenade-tossing action franchises of the past, while still managing to fall into a lot of that genre’s lovable pitfalls. How do you improve upon such a simple formula? Well, that’s what the latest entry in the franchise aims to do, and it looks like the answer was staring us all in the face all along.
Prey, a Hulu original film directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Patrick Aison, continues the Predator story by actually taking it back to a time long before Carl Weathers was pushing any pencils. As the name suggests, the perspective has shifted a bit — we’re no longer focused on the top game hunter. Instead, the story follows the creature’s prey, a Comanche tribe in 1719 North America. Amber Midthunder portrays Naru, a young woman who aspires to be a hunter and protect her tribe the way her family does. When a mysterious extraterrestrial creature lands in her tribe’s territory, she takes it as an opportunity to prove herself and sets out to hunt it.
Taking a concept like Predator and setting the story 300 years prior to the rest of the franchise is already a smart move on Trachtenberg’s part — so was casting Midthunder. Naru is a very likable character, due in part to how different she is from past Predator protagonists. The sense of false action hero machismo isn’t here, thankfully replaced by a more human understanding of the character’s vulnerability. The attention given to Naru’s “weaknesses,” her hesitation during hunts and her unorthodox tracking methods, turn out to play well into hers and the film’s strengths later on. Primarily in the third act, when Predator and prey finally take each other on and deliver one of the most intense final battles of the entire series.
Similar to the leaps and bounds its underdog protagonist has to cross to succeed, Prey has to navigate a market that expects it to fall short. Even 20th Century Studios took precaution, releasing it on Hulu and Disney/Star+ internationally, rather than a theatrical release. But Prey succeeds spectacularly in proving to be a worthy successor to the Predator name, ironically by being so detached and different from the rest of the series that it almost seems like a different franchise entirely.
What differentiates Prey from the rest of the series entries is that for the first time, the Predator is dealing with adversaries just as skilled as he. Real hunters, born to understand and live off of nature’s graces. As clever as he was in that final encounter, Dutch was ultimately a soldier. The same can be said for Royce, Brody’s character from Predators. The tension from those films came from the notion that the ball was in the Predator’s court. Our protagonists had to develop a lay of the land and quickly learn how to combat their camouflaged foe.
Naru already knows her way around the forest. She may have never encountered an alien before, but she’s encountered plenty of dangerous predators in the wild — from mountain lions to bears — and is well equipped to track and hunt the hunter itself. Despite it being a pretty even match, the movie reminds you all the way through that neither Naru nor the alien is solely predator or prey. Naru even outsmarts the creature a handful of times in ways that reward those with knowledge of the previous films and the Predator’s arsenal.
Prey turns the franchise on its head and delivers a surprisingly emotional and epic story. It improves upon the concepts of earlier films by evening the playing field — giving us a protagonist who from the jump is just as capable and deadly as the monster.
Prey is available to stream now on Hulu. Watch the trailer below.