Despite being a cult classic in the genre of slightly campy, ’80s sci-fi action Predator (1987) has always had its challenges with sequels. You would think that making a movie based largely on a handful of very intense people fighting an invisible crab man in an exotic locale would be a relatively straightforward undertaking, but Predator’s offspring have generally remained somewhere on the spectrum of far too goofy to overly dour. Prey (2022) represents a meaningful step forward in this field, as it retains the spirit of the original film while creating its own distinct identity and flavor. It represents a combination of the best elements of what worked in the Schwarzenegger classic with a modern flavor and new take on the subject matter.
The inclusion of Comanche culture and the 1700s American Great Plains as a setting is both Prey’s most immediately striking feature and its greatest design decision. The Comanche culture adds a feeling of uniqueness to the film, as Native Americans are rarely represented in lead roles in large-scale productions, and the significance of hunting within Comanche society ties in well to the themes the franchise is known for. Amber Midthunder gives an excellent performance as the film’s protagonist, Naru. She instills an immense amount of charisma and energy into the role. Thematically, much of the movie takes place during Naru’s ceremonial hunt, which is a nice framing device for the film as it juxtaposes her own hunt against her foe’s. Naru’s skills develop and grow as she learns from her opponent and gauges its strengths and shortcomings. I really enjoyed the period piece elements of the film because they explore an era and people that are not typically represented in this kind of affair and feel substantially differentiated from the heavily militarized commandos of the original.
The film’s cinematography is continuously strikingly beautiful and really encapsulates the feeling of a great, expansive wilderness. The film has a distinctly warm color palette and lovingly captures the feeling of the American wilds, and the fantastic sense of atmosphere and exploration throughout fully immerses the viewer. There’s a particularly well-composed sequence that masterfully uses fog and smoke to create a tense and unnerving atmosphere. The Yautja (the canonical name for the titular species of alien hunters referred to as “Predators”) has been redesigned to appear more naturalistic, sporting a helmet that resembles an animal skull more than the traditional metal mask look. It’s a nice change of pace from the traditional design and works in the context of the film’s period piece elements.
What I would attribute to Prey succeeding where many a Predator sequel has failed is a combination of its tone and use of the original film as a reference. Projects like AVP: Alien vs. Predator and The Predator have been silly and outlandish, while films like Predators have been overly serious and dour. All of these films attempt to up the ante of the Predator status quo, with design choices like upping the number of Yautja, throwing in the Xenomorphs from Alien and its sequels, and generally trying to artificially intensify the film by cramming as much as possible into the final product. Prey opts for a different, more minimalist approach to great effect. The film is largely consistent with the ideas and structure presented in the original film, and simply builds carefully upon its design philosophy. The new setting keeps the film fresh, but it retains much of the original’s charm out of its reverence and understanding of what made it work.
In conclusion, Prey marks the first great Predator sequel through its strong acting, production value, “back to basics” approach, and unique point of view. It’s a real shame that Prey was exiled to Hulu (likely as a casualty of the Disney and 20th Century Fox merger, although that is simply speculation) as it’s one of the strongest and most exciting films to come out this year and deserves to have had a theatrical release.