A Wise Hunter – Review of “Prey”

Source: IMDB

As a child of the 1980s, I have an unabashed love for a good portion of the films released during that decade. One such film that is made up of one-part machismo and two-parts science-fiction horror is the original Predator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since that time, the Predator franchise has had some serious ups and downs, ranging from the abysmal (The Predator) to the just okay (Alien vs. Predator) to the pretty good (Predator 2). Prey, the latest installment of the Predator franchise, is a prequel set during the 1700s that details an encounter between one of the Predators and a Comanche woman and it manages to be a gory yet entertaining film, largely because of the lead performance by Amber Midthunder as the lead character Naru.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched Prey.

As mentioned in the opening, this movie works largely because of the earnest and thoughtful portrayal of Naru created by Amber Midthunder. Naru is a sometimes-precocious Comanche woman who would prefer to become a hunter rather than be relegated to the traditional roles assigned to women within her tribe. I use the word precocious not in the child-like sense but more in the sense that this is early on in Naru’s development as a hunter, where she makes common mistakes, such as not staying downwind of a bear while out in the woods or mistakenly falling into a pit of quicksand. The early setbacks are learning moments for Naru, largely because she is both persistent and highly observant. I’ve seen quite a lot of talk on the internet in reviews for this film that Naru is just a “Mary Sue” character, which is completely horseshit. A “Mary Sue” character would have started off as skilled as Naru is by the end of the film and would not have had as many setbacks as she does throughout the early part of the movie. The negative criticisms I’ve seen of this film (largely from white, male reviewers who love to scream about “wokeness” in modern films) simply don’t like seeing what has been predominantly a male-dominated franchise focus on a female lead.

To those reviewers, I have this to say: Kindly and with as little respect as possible, shut the fuck up.

Now, back to the movie review.

The first 30 or so minutes of the film is treated much like a period drama, set in the Northern Plains and following Naru on her quest to become a hunter like her brother Taabe. The sibling dynamic between the two is well-acted, which is a testament to the skill of the two actors. I was surprised to find out that Prey is Dakota Beavers first feature-role, since he has a great amount of poise and manages to make Taabe a likeable character, despite his frequent attempts to keep Naru away from what he feels is not her traditional role in their tribe. The hunt for the mountain lion is a tense and drawn-out (in a good way) cat-and-mouse sequence, with the Comanche standing in for the mouse. It’s during this hunt that Naru first discovers the presence of the Yuatja (the canon name for the Predator species).

Naru sets out on her own to find this creature that she is rightly afraid of, which leads to her almost dying at the claws of a large bear. We also get to spend some time with the Feral Predator, seeing it engage in its hunting of game. There’s a reverse journey going on between the two characters of the Feral Predator and Naru. Where the Feral Predator becomes increasingly arrogant during the hunt, Naru is paying attention to how the creature goes about its hunting (including picking up on the fact that a medicinal herb meant to cool the body and slow down the blood flow causes a person to be rendered invisible to the Feral Predator).

We also get an extended sequence with a cadre of French poachers and trappers, who are responsible for a swath of dead buffalo seen at the midpoint of the film. Much like the Feral Predator, the French trappers are more technologically advanced than Naru and Taabe but they also are increasingly reliant on their technology and blinded by their own arrogance. Given how badly they mistreat Naru, Taabe, and their dog Sarii, no tears were shed when the Predator utterly annihilates the trappers during an extended fight sequence that is bloody fantastic to watch.

The lead-up to the ending is also handled well, with Taabe being the only person up to that point to give the Feral Predator a decent fight. In their final moments, the two siblings have a largely wordless exchange of looks, with Taabe finally encouraging his sister to finish the hunt and kill the Feral Predator just before he dies. Naru takes everything she’s learned up to this point and sets a trap for the Predator, using one of the French trappers who abused her brother as bait. With the skills she’s developed over the course of the film and some exceptional planning, Naru is able to defeat the Feral Predator, claiming its head as a trophy (in a karmic turnaround from how Predators have treated their prey in previous films).

From start to finish, I greatly enjoyed this film. The slower opening that focused on developing the Comanche tribe, Naru’s struggles for acceptance, and her growth as a hunter (including her failures) were handled well by the director and writing team. The visceral combat sequences were quite a sight, particularly during the fight sequence when the Feral Predator destroys the French trappers one by one. By setting the film in the distant past, the filmmakers were largely able to avoid many of the tired tropes that the Predator franchise had fallen into with the recent films. If you love the Predator franchise or just like sci-fi horror films, I’d definitely suggest checking out Prey on Hulu when you get the chance.

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