Reboots, revivals, prequels, and legacy sequels have become the norm and it's increasingly rare to see a franchise pull off a genuinely fresh take on its mythology. 2022 alone has seen several debut to success (Scream and Top Gun: Maverick come to mind) and others falling quite flat (it's best to forget about Netflix's ill-advised Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel). The Predator franchise has seen its fair share of sequels, and crossovers, and branching IP. Prey is the latest and quite possibly the best Predator entry since the original 1987 film. A lean action thriller, Prey takes Predator back to its ultra-violent roots and proves itself as a worthy entry in the franchise's mythology.
Prey follows Naru (Amber Midthunder) a member of the Comanche Nation in 1719 North America who wishes to prove her hunting capabilities amidst her male counterparts. This includes her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), with whom she is close and whose bond is the heart of the film. Naru's small acts of rebellion lead her to notice the presence of a peculiar predator, one that is unfamiliar to her. While everyone else ignores her, Naru sets out to stalk the Predator and finds herself on a violent journey that puts her up against the harsh wildlife of the region, violent colonizers, and a brutal alien presence.
One of Prey's biggest strengths is its back-to-basics approach to the franchise. Whereas other reboots and sequels attempt to build on their franchise roots to varying degrees of success, Prey keeps it quite simple and it's clear that this is what the film needs. Harking back to the natural setting of the first Predator and 2010's underappreciated Adrien Brody starring Predators, the film makes great use of the forest and mountain environments of 18th century North America. Much of the first half of the film follows Naru as she tracks the Predator across the vast land of the Comanche Nation and these sequences are just as suspenseful as when she comes up against the Predator itself. The build-up to Naru's first encounter brings tension to its breaking point before it explodes in a bloody mess that leaves Naru on the run. Director Dan Trachtenberg's appreciation of the environment in the midst of all this gives the film the naturalistic flair that works best for Predator. Pitting man against the titular alien doesn't need to be dressed up to be good.
None of this would work without Midthunder's captivating performance as Naru. Her curiosity outweighs her hesitation in hunting the Predator and this - combined with her fierce protectiveness that goes unnoticed by those she cares about most - makes her increasingly dangerous predicaments all the more suspenseful. Naru and Taabe's relationship is one borne out of necessity and love and Midthunder and Beavers carry a natural bond that gives Prey just the right amount of emotional heft.
All of this is underscored by Prey's clear connections to themes of colonization and violence perpetuated against Native Americans by imperialistic forces. Jhane Myers (who is of Comanche and Blackfoot descent) was brought on board to consult on Prey's representation of Indigenous peoples and the film ensures that its depiction of them goes beyond the stereotypical ways they have been portrayed in the past. Additionally, seeing an Indigenous woman lead the film with a steely heart and fierce grace is a refreshing turn for a genre that still struggles to look beyond its purview of white male leads.
Ultimately, Prey certainly has the potential to relaunch a franchise that has struggled in the past decade and a half. Movies like Prey don't need copious worldbuilding or mythologizing - deft character work and an established visual language go far in creating a movie that barely pauses to take a breath. Where Predator goes from here remains unclear but Prey certainly proves that there is more life left in the franchise.
Prey releases to Hulu on Friday, August 5. The film is 99 minutes long and is rated R for strong bloody violence.