WHEN Shane Black made his return to the Predator franchise, this time as director of The Predator in 2018, hopes were high it could live up to the promise of the original.
Unfortunately, those hopes were swiftly dashed by a messy instalment that failed to capture what made John McTiernan’s film so memorable.
Consigned to the dustbin of flawed sequels, it appeared yet another Hollywood monster would be flogged to death in mediocre outings.
Up step film-maker Dan Trachtenberg. Following his 2016 sleeper hit 10 Cloverfield Lane, he teased us last year with the prospect of a new Predator film set 300 years in the past, among a Comanche tribe.
Centred around Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young tribeswoman with hopes of becoming a fearsome hunter, we follow her as she is thrown into a game of kill or be killed with an unseen enemy.
Not content with being sent out to forage food and plants for medicine, Naru believes she’s ready for Khutaamia – the big hunt – when she witnesses lights in the sky, something she describes as “the thunder bird”. However, doubts among her tribe, especially from her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) leave her frustrated. He tells her she must hunt something that’s hunting her. And it’s not long before that’s exactly where she finds herself. Only it’s not a mountain lion or a wolf prowling the Plains, it’s an otherworldly creature, sent to Earth on his own hunt. Working his way up the food chain, we see the Predator gather trophies in an unflinching display of his apex predator abilities.
But Naru’s determination to be recognised for her own skills results in a tense, often brutal, game of cat and mouse.
Director Trachtenberg, first and foremost, understands what makes a Predator film effective. It’s not about balls-out action and coarse bros. It’s about building a tangible world with characters we can root for. He sets the tone early as we meet Naru and her family and tribe. She’s a young girl looking for a sense of place in a world where the men see themselves as the hunters and women are the gatherers. For all intents and purposes, this is a coming-of-age tale that takes big swings to reinvigorate a flagging franchise.
Midthunder’s portrayal of Naru is the beating heart of the film as we watch her character grow from a hesitant teenager into a hunter via a wonderful moment of self-realisation that will make audiences punch the air with glee. She gives us a heroine who won’t take no for an answer and who is as badass as Ripley or Sarah Connor – but instead of machine guns and pulse rifles, she has a tomahawk on a rope and a bow and arrow.
The film is dripping in atmosphere, none more so than in some wonderfully-executed set pieces. There’s a chase through the tall grass that is tense while a battle in an ash-covered forest is thrilling and brutal in equal measure as we witness European settlers being torn apart in expert fashion.
There’s a swagger to this particular Predator that gives him a personality all his own. He dispatches of anyone who gets in his way with flair and panache and he’s still imposing without being the clumsy, lumbering beast from The Predator, thankfully.
And it all culminates in a riveting climax that pits the hunter and the hunted against one another.
Special mention must also go to composer Sarah Schachner. Best know for her work on games including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Assassin’s Creed Origin and AC Valhalla, her arrangements and notes provide Trachtenberg’s film with danger, perfectly capturing the wonder of the hunt. It’s a rousing score with cues that add texture to the world.
What Trachtenberg has done cannot be understated. He’s taken a beloved Hollywood monster that had lost what made it threatening and breathed new life into it.
Prey gives the original film a run for its money. It’s lean – coming in at just over 90 minutes – and stripped back. It’s everything a Predator fan could want from a sequel – or prequel, in this instance – and so much more.
Prey is available to stream on Disney+ from Friday 5th August.