Click, click, click. Bright green blood. Three red dots, and you’re dead. This pattern is synonymous with the Predator franchise that kicked off with an Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle in 1987. Three sequels and two crossovers with the Alien franchise later, 20th Century Studios is giving us our first prequel to the series in Prey. This science fiction action film throws us back to the Comanche Nation in 1719, where a young warrior named Naru (Amber Midthunder) must protect her tribe from an otherworldly creature.
Prey is a mixed bag — a hodgepodge of excellent scenes, a simple concept shown with conventionality, and a story that fails to build the world of Predator beyond what we have already seen. The Predator sequels have all hit a stride with new characters being hunted, a few new ideas, and the occasional reference to one of Arnie’s iconic lines. Unfortunately, this eventually went south in 2018 with the failure of The Predator, and throwing this series years into the past was likely the shake-up this series needed. There is much to enjoy about this new look through the Predator’s infrared vision, but the film doesn’t find the consistency it needs.
Setting this movie in the eighteenth century allows for a new type of action film. The characters don’t have modern weapons, relying on bows and arrows and muskets rather than your typical machine gun. This atmospheric film brings the series back to basics with a thriller set in the wilderness as the characters fight to survive. The themes surrounding the food chain and predatorial animals hunting their prey are shown through unsubtle imagery and fights that are not always as entertaining as director Dan Trachtenberg may have hoped.
Parts of the film work very well — namely, the film’s final half-hour, which features some of the most gripping Predator action yet. Some excellent ideas near the end of the movie stop the film from being a total waste of time, but the first hour holds Prey back. The movie lacks the riveting suspense and gory violence of John McTiernan’s original film, going down a more conventional route for the first two acts. As a result, it can be a rough journey getting to that thrilling finale we’re hoping for, as the characters are never as interesting as they could be.
Our protagonist is Naru, a character who wants to hunt so that she can prove herself. Her arc is what you would expect, but it never feels emotionally satisfying due to its simplicity. Her motivation is never as strong as it could be, but the movie succeeds with a few brutal kills and a standout slaughter sequence. The film relies more on bloody carnage than quiet suspense, with a story low in substance and featuring a lack of exciting ideas that expand on the mythology of the Predator series. If you’re in the mood for the Predator hunting people in the wilderness, you are better off with the original — a much more rewatchable film due to Schwarzenegger’s charisma.
Every new installment of the Predator franchise has aimed to recapture that original film. But instead of coming up with new quotable lines and a new charming lead, Prey simply doesn’t have as much to offer. An awe-inspiring fight scene occurs in one take, but the movie doesn’t always get you invested in the conflict. It doesn’t do too much wrong, nor is it heavily flawed, but by the end of it, the result is a more forgettable venture into a series that will never be able to reach the heights of Dutch crawling through the jungle and yelling at his allies to get to the chopper.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 5.5 equates to “Mediocre.” This score means that the positives and negatives wind up negating each other, making it a wash.
Disclosure: Critic attended a press screening for our Prey review.