Prey (2022)

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Dan Trachtenberg | 99 mins | digital (UHD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | NR* / R

Prey

In the seemingly-endless cycle of “trying to reboot popular ’70s/’80s sci-fi franchises”, it is once again the turn of Predator, following in the wake of 2018’s disappointingly messy The Predator and 2010’s apparently-disliked Predators (I enjoyed it, but everyone seems to write it off nowadays). Where both of those tried to go bigger — either with more or larger versions of the eponymous aliens — Prey strips things back to basics, as per the one entry in the series everyone can agree is good, the first.

Set around 300 years ago, when indigenous people still lived freely on the plains of North America, the film introduces to a member of the Comanche tribe, Naru (Amber Midthunder, who genre fans might recognise from X-Men-adjacent TV series Legion), a young woman who wants to prove herself as a hunter like the tribe’s menfolk, including her exalted brother (Dakota Beavers). Long story short, she’s about to get chance when an alien Predator rocks up.

Plot-wise, Prey is pretty straightforward. And therein lies a big part of its success, because what more do we want from a Predator movie than “a hero has to fight a technologically-superior Predator”? If you do want more than that, I think you’ve come to the wrong franchise. Of course, simply rehashing what’s gone before is just another path to failure, and so what Prey does is take those basic bones and dress them up with fresh settings, ideas, and perspectives. In this case, that’s the period setting and Native American heroes. How do you defeat a Predator using weapons no more technologically advanced than bows and arrows? With intelligence, of course, and the film does a nice job of showing Naru gather information and formulate plans without ever needing to spell them out for us.

The prey becomes the predator

That it can pull that off is also to the credit of star Amber Midthunder, who conveys so much of Naru’s thought processes through only looks and expressions. All round she makes for an appealing heroine: she’s capable and brave, but not foolishly so, sometimes hanging back to assess the situation, or even running away when the odds aren’t in her favour, rather than diving in mindlessly. As action heroes go, I think that counts as nuance. I saw one critic tweet opine that she’s so good she needs to be given a Marvel superhero role ASAP, which is more a depressing indication of the state of cinema (appealing action lead? The highest honour would be a Marvel role!) than an indication of Midthunder’s ability (please, Hollywood, don’t just waste her on Marvel filler).

This may be a straight-up humans vs aliens action movie, but it still treats its audience with a degree of respect. It knows we’re capable of joining dots ourselves, especially when we can see characters doing the same. Naturally, Prey has some developments and moments derived from previous Predator movies — it wouldn’t really be part of the same franchise if it wiped the slate wholly clean — but they feel recontextualised or come into play naturally, rather than the filmmakers over-eagerly forcing them on us as a plea to nostalgia.

Quite aside from the plot and action, this is a beautifully made film. The first half-hour almost evokes the work of Terence Malick, with its relatively slow pace and photography that showcases nature and gorgeous scenery. This would’ve been a stunner on the big screen. Most big-budget theatrically-released films don’t look this much like A Movie nowadays, never mind streaming churn. I say it only “almost evokes Malick” because it’s not actually Malick-speed slow, but what it’s doing is quite deliberate: establishing the characters, the environment they live in, the things they know and the tools they have access to, and so on — as well as building up the looming threat of the alien hunter — so that we understand the world and the stakes when things kick off later.

They're going on a bear hunt (no, really, at this point they think it's a bear)

One thing I sort of want to pull the filmmakers up on is the language(s) used for dialogue. During promotion, they’ve talked about how some of the film is actually in the Comanche language, a selling point because of diversity and inclusion. Well, not much of the dialogue is Comanche — the primary language is unquestionably English — and it’s not subtitled, which means the vast majority of viewers can’t understand it, so they could be saying anything. I don’t think a film is ‘in’ a language if you can’t understand it (it’s why I’ve not listed Comanche as a language at the top of this review, nor the European languages spoken by the settlers who come into the plot, which also aren’t subtitled). That said, there is the option to watch the entire film dubbed in Comanche — a first, apparently. That would be more historically authentic, but it’s also a dub, i.e. not how the film was ‘intended’. Nonetheless, I’ve already seen some argue it’s a better version, so it may well be worth a look.

That minor point aside (it’s not something I’m holding against the film, just the filmmakers boastfulness), Prey is a resounding success at what it sets out to be: an action movie in which humans and Predators have a fight. It’s the Predator film fans have long been waiting for. And it hopefully indicates to the studio bigwigs what the future of this franchise should be: pick a different era, with different technology and/or attitudes to combat, drop a Predator into it, and see how the humans get on against it. Honestly, with the right creatives, you could milk that simply premise for another half-dozen or more enjoyable movies, I reckon.

4 out of 5

Prey was the 49th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.

* There was no certificate listed on the BBFC website at time of review; Disney+ continuing to take advantage of the fact there’s no legal requirement for streaming content to be certified. Some press ads listed the film as 18+, but they’ve gone with 16+ on the service itself. So, it’s either a 15 or an 18. I guess we’ll never know (unless it gets a disc release). ^

The Predator (2018)

2019 #28
Shane Black | 107 mins | download (UHD) | 2.39:1 | USA & Canada / English & Spanish | 15 / R

The Predator

Some films take me a while to review because I just don’t get round to them. Some take time because I need to coalesce my thoughts. Others, I barely have any thoughts in the first place. The trickiest are the ones where I feel like there are many thoughts, but I have little idea how to express them. The Predator is definitely in that final camp. Why? Well, I thought it was quite a poor film… but I also sort of enjoyed it. Not in a Gods of Egypt way (that was kinda “so bad it’s good”; or maybe “so strange it’s good”), nor in a “I can see what they were going for, they just couldn’t quite get there” way, but in a… well, there’s the rub. The film undoubtedly has its problems, but it also has bits I was okay with; liked, even. What it feels like is a decent, middle-of-the-road-ish sci-fi actioner… that they then, for some unfathomable reason, deliberately dicked around with to make it kinda bad.

The reason I put it that way is the film’s sense of narrative, which is really messy. It feels like someone decided the movie was too long and so got the running time down by just pulling out scenes at random. There’s an extensive IMDb Trivia entry here that broadly explains what was changed in the edit and via reshoots, and that suggests it feels like a lot of stuff was chopped out because, well, it was. Other movies have survived such tinkering, but here it feels cack-handed. The end result doesn’t flow. You can follow it, but it’s oddly disjointed.

Other aspects suggest perhaps there were compromises on things like the age certificate. For example, at one point a female character is spared by the Predator because she’s naked. A vital piece of information for later? Um, no, it doesn’t come up again. So it’s gratuitous nudity? Well, not really, because it’s carefully shot so we don’t see anything. The film ended up going for an R, but perhaps they thought they’d have to make it PG-13? Either way, why is that ultimately pointless scene still in the movie?

“I don't care if you point a gun at me, so long as you don't get your tits out again!”

It’s not just the story and logic that’s mangled, there’s a real mishmash of tones as well. Writer-director Shane Black did such excellent work shepherding mixed moods in the superb Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the perfect Nice Guys, and the best Iron Man film, but here he seems to have lost his handle on how to deliver the required blend of action, horror, and humour. Personally, I quite liked the humour, but sometimes it does just barge in out of nowhere. People who like their alien hunter action movies to be po-faced will not be impressed.

So, it’s an odd case all round. It’s an impossible movie to recommend because it’s certainly not good, but I also didn’t hate it as much as I feel I should’ve. It’s kind of a disaster, but it’s also… fine. Put it this way: one day I expect I’ll rewatch the Predator movies, and while I’ll probably skip AvP Requiem, I’ll include this one. Faint praise, I know.

Nonetheless, I really hope they make another Predator movie… mainly so I can see what they come up with for a title. Okay, sure, it’ll probably just be Predator: Meaningless Subtitle, but I live in hope they’ll continue this trend of adding a little something (pluralisation; the definitive article) and it’ll be called, like, Predatoring or something. (Hire me, Hollywood!)

3 out of 5

The Predator is available on Sky Cinema from today.

Alien vs Predator – Part 3

Having already published my thoughts on the two franchise starters and the remaining films in the Alien series (crikey, has it really been three months since that?), this is the concluding entry in my coverage of the Alien, Predator and Alien vs Predator franchises.

This time, I’ve covered the sole Predator sequel (to date [2015 note: times change]), and how the franchises fared as they came together to move into the new millennium. Be warned: things only get worse. Much, much worse.

2009 #17
Predator 2

“I’ve talked about the Alien sequels dramatically switching genres, but Predator 2 leaves them looking as if they couldn’t be more alike. Where Predator is a behind-enemy-lines/covert mission/jungle/war actioner, Predator 2 is an urban drugs crime police, erm, actioner… though both with a sci-fi twist, obviously.” Read more…

2009 #18
AVP: Alien vs. Predator
(Extended Version)

“Anderson manages to amalgamate a popular and acclaimed film franchise, its almost-as-beloved stablemate, and an equally popular and acclaimed comics & video game series, and then decimate all three in one 85-minute (without credits) swoop.” Read more…

2009 #19
AVPR – Aliens vs Predator: Requiem

“By not withholding the monsters, the characters’ dull lives become even duller. One of the Alien series’ strengths was in making the extraordinary (space travel!) seem mundane (space truckers), but AVPR makes the ordinary seem mundane, and that’s no achievement at all; in fact, that’s a great big failure.” Read more…


And that’s it.

Except not for long, because at some point I’ll surely share another three-film entry covering the various extended versions of the three Alien sequels. And then, of course, Robert Rodriguez is working on a Predator continuation/reboot, supposedly still called Predators, not to mention the much-discussed Ridley Scott reboot/remake/prequel of Alien. Each project has good people involved, but it remains to be seen if any of them can pull it off.

Still, you can’t get worse than AVPR, right?

Though, they said that about AVP

Alien vs Predator – Part 2

Five weeks ago (crikey, time flies) I began my series of reviews of the Alien, Predator and Alien vs Predator franchises with my thoughts on Alien: The Director’s Cut and the original Predator, both of which I’d seen before. Over the past few days I’ve moved on to the remaining Alien films, all of which I viewed in their original theatrical cuts and all of which were new to me.

Here’s a handy summary of what you may’ve missed, then, if you somehow had something better to do on a sunny summer weekend than check blogs every day.

2009 #14
Aliens

“Where Alien is a Horror Movie — but in space — Aliens is a War Movie — but in space. The central characters are a team of marines, as opposed to the original’s ordinary guys; where the first film’s design was dark, shadowy and oppressive, here it’s all gleaming tech, tanks and guns and spaceships and the like; and, just to underline the point, the score is full of military drums.” Read more…

2009 #15
Alien³

“Even if in some ways 3 combines the first two — single Alien, claustrophobia, unarmed heroes; but there are lots of them, most with experience of killing — it adds enough variety, especially stylistically… it soon turns dark, dirty and decrepit, abandoning both the the military sheen of Aliens and the old tanker grime of Alien.” Read more…

2009 #16
Alien Resurrection

“the most notable differences are its black humour, where the tastes of both [writer] Whedon and director Jeunet make their mark, and how grotesque it is — almost two extremes walking hand-in-hand. The deformed, perverted Ripley clones; the Hybrid; the Ripley-Alien sex scene — there’s nothing like this in the other films, and that’s a grand thing.” Read more…


In the third and final part of this series I’ll be setting my sights on the allegedly-underrated Predator 2 and the much-hated pair of AVP and AVPR.

Alien vs Predator – Part 1

If you happen to keep an eye on my coming soon page or have been following me on Twitter, you may’ve noticed that I recently watched all eight films in the Alien, Predator and Alien vs Predator franchises, the majority of them for the first time.

As I’m sure you know, I normally only review films I’ve not seen before. In the interests of being thorough, however (and following in the footsteps of Casino Royale, Cube, and the first three… well, really, all the Star Wars films), I’ve also reviewed the only two I’d seen before — perhaps unsurprisingly, Alien and Predator themselves.

2009 #13a
Alien: The Director’s Cut

Alien feels unchanged. It’s been said many times before but, first and foremost, it’s a horror movie — it just happens to be one set in space with plenty of sci-fi trappings… Whatever effect Scott’s trims may have had, they haven’t made it any less effective in this regard” Read more…

2009 #16a
Predator

“it’s an entertaining war flick that turns into a sci-fi/action/horror skirmish thingy — but it doesn’t have the same finesse that imbues Alien and its sequel.” Read more…


Reviews for the remaining six films won’t be too far behind.