Director Dan Trachtenberg made waves with his directorial debut 10 Cloverfield Lane, the surprise delight of 2016. 10 Cloverfield Lane was a film no one expected, and one that nearly everyone loved (myself included as it earned itself a spot in my top ten films of that year). So it definitely came as a surprise that Trachtenberg hasn't been busier the last several years. Six years passed and the director was still without a sophomore feature film (though notably, directed some television including the excellent pilot episode of The Boys)...that is, until Prey. Like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Prey acts as an isolated story within an existing franchise--though in 10 Cloverfield Lane's case, it was more one very belated and unexpected sequel, while Prey had a bit more baggage to deal with
In a little over a decade, the Predator franchise has tried to be revived three times now, and to many, it was beyond hope (much like another Schwarzenegger franchise, The Terminator). Was it time to give up on The Predator having any good sequels and just accept that the only good one was the original? When Prey was announced as being dumped on Hulu it all but assured that would be the case...and then the early reviews came. Critics heralded the film as a triumph and the best Predator film since the original. Admittedly, I haven't seen every film featuring the Predator, so I can't speak to that...but I can confirm Prey is loads better than the last attempt Predators. Whether or not it's deserving of the amount of its current hype though, I'm less certain.
Prey takes the predator and places it in an entirely new setting and time--in the Comanche Nation during the early 1700s. Here we follow a determined woman named Naru as she tries to find her place within her tribe. She quickly senses that something dangerous is afoot in her land and she is resolute in getting to the bottom of it. Choosing to make this film a period piece and remove modern technology as a way for protagonists to defend themselves was a really brilliant and fascinating move, which is honestly one of the best decisions the film makes. The execution that we're really seeing a story play out from this time period though isn't always believable (particularly as far as the dialogue is concerned), but it's fun and refreshing all the same. The choice also really highlights what a battle of wits Naru must have to best a creature with such powerful technology, which makes the action scenes all the more tense and exciting.
While Prey has a lot going for it, I can't help but feel it really gets tripped up with pacing issues. The film takes a really long time to get going, which wouldn't have been so much of a problem if it focused more on meaningful character development. Instead, Prey's character moments feel like pretty generic material we've seen before with a woman trying to prove herself to all her male doubters. While that's not to say that can't be used as a way to shape a character, here it just felt like a placeholder for something else consequential. Meanwhile, the predator himself takes up time surveying the area with vague glimpses of terror, but it's just not enough to build tension. When he finally shows up, a degree of patience had already been lost and I found myself expecting that the movie needed to make it up to me. Thankfully, once the film becomes more of a cat and mouse game with Naru figuring out how to narrowly avoid becoming the predator's prey the pacing finally picks up. But once we reach the film's climax the film almost immediately concludes without feeling like the story or character had a total resolution. Tonally, the roll to credits almost felt like I was watching some made-for-tv movie from the 90s and the film's importance felt weirdly lessened for it.
Overall, I felt mixed on Prey, particularly for the potential I felt that it had with a talented director at the helm, a cool premise, and lots of critical praise going into it. While it had some truly great elements, I'm not sure the sum was greater than its parts. All the same, it's worth a watch and is one of the better films to portray the predator on screen, though it seems nothing will ever touch that original.