‘PREY’ – 20th Century Fox
The latest ‘Predator’ film, which has just been released on the HULU (Disney Plus) streaming platform.
I’m a huge fan of the first Predator film, I mean who of a certain age isn’t? Upon its release back in 1987, the then 40 year old Arnold Schwarzenegger, fresh from the success of various 80’s action classics which include ‘Conan the barbarian’, ‘Terminator’ ‘Commando’, and ‘Raw Deal’, was to forever cement his place in the sci-fi/horror genre with this utter belter.
The beauty of the film was its unique premise – conceived by co-creators (and brothers) Jim and John Thomas – after they read an article about the ‘Rocky’ franchise and its need for Balboa to ‘fight an Alien’ to keep the franchise alive. This was the catalyst for the idea. Out of acorns grow’ and all that…
What followed was a quickly written script that offered the idea of an Alien ‘hunter’ (its original working title) who travels the universe, hunting and slaughtering any and all species – in this case, mercenaries in the South American jungle – in search of trophies – the backbones and skulls of said creatures. The key element was the creature’s ability to ‘cloak’ itself and turn invisible. So far so high-concept.
It was critically mauled, but became a box office success and has since come to represent the start of ‘peak’ Arnie.
It is a beautifully constructed film, full of tension and thrills, that played on Arnie’s known personality but also had a seriousness that didn’t insult the viewer.
What followed this benchmark film was a raft of films that seeked to repeat the formula but failed to do so pretty much every step of the way. With a potentially rich universe to explore it has always puzzled me how the writers and directors have rushed to contain it. The only film I felt tried to push the envelope a tad, and felt close to the original concept both in scale and feel, was 2010’s ‘Predators’ – but it sadly faltered due to dreadful casting choices – Adrian Brody as a tough bloke? As much as I like him in the Pianist, he isn’t an action hero.
I’ve also collected the Alien V’s Predator graphic novels and there are some great ideas in those books, but again, none of it reached the screen for the frankly risible attempts to combine those two great modern creature characters in one film.
Because of all the above, I’ve grown weary of the franchise and when it was announced there was to be another, I didn’t hold out much hope.
However, after reading the set up and also the film makers involved – with the director of the fantastic ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’, Dan Trachtenberg at the helm, I did begin to think that perhaps the penny has dropped. Maybe, just maybe, someone had realised that these stories could go and be ANYWHERE, and could be the perfect vehicle for the ‘two uniquely different worlds collide’ idea that had worked so well the first time around for this most exciting of propositions. Maybe…?
I’m pleased to report that ’Prey’ does – on the whole – deliver on the promise and does freshen the whole concept…just.
The films strongest element is the setting – America of the 18th century where a skilled Comanche warrior called ‘Naru’ – played with a seriousness and commitment by wonderful newcomer Amber Midthunder – protects her tribe from the highly evolved alien predator we all know and love, that has set up shop in the mountains of the southern territories to hunt humans for sport. Our hero fights against the wilderness, dangerous colonisers and the mysterious creature to keep her people safe whilst at the same time discovering her own destiny.
It is a visceral, bloody affair that doesn’t shy away from the violence that echoes the struggle that first nation people had to contend with in ‘real’ history – something that skilfully makes its point without needing to be written too large. The supporting cast are largely made up of actors from First Nation Comanche descendants and every detail of the era is faithfully recreated to bring a sense of authenticity to the whole thing. One commendable element is the use of the Comanche language and also French – without providing subtitles – something I thought was very cool and only added to the flavours on offer.
From the very start, we are transported into a universe where the technology of a super being is pitted against the skills of a warrior who knows her terrain and understands the land. We get set pieces that thrill and also prod the first films memory which works well – a memorable and finger chewing tense ‘quick sand’ – or ‘quick mud’ I should say – scene is obviously a direct reference to Arnie’s encounter with the ‘camouflage mud’ riff – also, the discovery of Naru’s own ‘cloaking’ device is another sweet and fun reference.
The acting across the board is convincing and the dialogue pretty sound despite one or two moments where the script writers have slipped in a modern phrase or two that sound ridiculously out of place – but it’s a minor quibble.
Generally the plot works. We get the juxtaposition of unscrupulous colonisers who treat the land and its people as fair game being picked off by a creature more cunning and unrelenting than them.
There’s the delicious cat and mouse action between Naru and the creature which does, rather surprisingly, work well – I was worried that it would come across as utterly improbable that a warrior using a bow and arrow and an axe would ever be able to truly fight a creature from out of space with laser guided weaponry and an invisibility cloaking system, but the director has cleverly established a fighting style that does attempt to bring a reality to proceeding – it’s all speed, fluid acrobatics, balance and quick wits that finally does the job.
It doesn’t all work though. There is a mistake for me in the cinematography, which uses a super clean digital look where a rougher, ‘film’ feel would have worked much better, and the camera is a little too aware of itself on occasion. The dialogue is lumpy in places and I felt there were plot holes along the way that relied upon my suspension of belief a little too much and also crucially removed some of the characters strengths. The CGI is also oddly a bit dodgy – I can only assume it was a budget thing – but in a movie about an invisible Alien creature who fights Bears with his bare hands, they really should have thought about that.
At the end of the day (or pitch black night of gruesome violence) it is a ‘Predator’ film and as such doesn’t have to make total sense – of course not, and it’s perhaps testament to the film makers that they got so much right and got away with so much, so well that I’m only able to find the minor chinks. It IS a triumph and is hands down the second best ‘Predator’ movie ever made – the others don’t even come close in my opinion.
What is excellent about this idea is it allows for wider scope for the future – how about ’Predator’ in Greek mythology? Victorian England? The first world war? The point is, the story isn’t ever going to change is it? We know what SHOULD Happen – it’s like ‘Bond’ or ‘Paddington Bear’ – we’re not looking for a reinvention of the wheel, just a good way to re-explore the character and consequences of all concerned. What IS important is WHERE that story takes place and with WHO, that is the key, and in this case, they got it very nearly all right.
And I can’t wait to see Amber Midthunder in her next movie, a star in the making no doubt.
I give the film 4 stars out of 5.
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