It’s a bad position for a movie to be in when the last instalment of a franchise to hit the silver screen is arguably the worst of the bunch.
That was the position of the Predator series before its newest movie, Prey, hit streaming this weekend. Predator is one of those franchises that makes it feel like Hollywood is trying its damndest to recapture what made one movie so outrageously popular. The easy answer to this is Arnie: his 80s God-like hold over action cinema was deftly used by Die Hard director John McTernan to build up the titular creature’s credibility. If Arnie was afraid of this thing, then we should be too.
Next came Predator 2, a movie which I personally love that didn’t go over too well with critics and audiences. Since then, give or take a shameless AVP cash grab or two, the franchise has been trying to get back to that hunter/hunted goodness. Predators was okay, it’s concept strong but let down by the ludicrous casting of Adrien Brody (great actor, but he can’t do action), and then The Predator revealed that there is such a thing as too much Shane Black. So, while the creature has remained iconic, it hasn’t had a movie worthy of it since Danny Glover hunted it through the concrete jungle (but that’s just my opinion). Until Prey.
Directed by 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Dan Trachtenberg, Prey takes the Predator franchise back to the 18th century as a new version of the creature decides to go for a spot of of lion hunting – or people, if they get in its way. The excess of The Predator is completely stripped away as Prey chisels its story down to a simple, but very effective, coming of age story of Naru (the brilliant Amber Midthunder), a Comanche girl who is desperate to prove herself in the hunt.
Much like the last Transformers movie, Bumblebee, Prey remembers that we as an audience have to give a shit about characters in movies if their stories are to be completely effective. Naru is a compelling character because she is a well-rounded one; we see her grow, we see her practicing her skills rather than just suddenly having them, and we see how her place in her community is fluid through the relationship with her more traditionally-revered brother. Oh, and there’s lots of blood, guts, limbs flying, and the Predator is absolutely formidable, but not unbelievably so (well, in the universe of these movies, at least).
Prey works so well because Trachtenberg knows when to utilize modern techniques and when the classic stuff is the best choice. Unlike the stupid massive CGI creature of The Predator, Prey’s creature is a man in a suit when it needs to be and a CGI creation when the story calls for it. Thanks to this, Prey feels like a movie out of time with the current blockbuster trend of blue rooms and multi-coloured lights. That’s probably one of the other reasons it went to streaming and, like Annihilation before it, I’m gutted not to have seen Prey on the big screen it so clearly deserved.
Prey proves that to make a good movie, never mind a good Predator movie, you can’t scrimp on the basics. A good rule of thumb that Prey follows is the same as another of the biggest-ever monster movie: in Jurassic Park, if we don’t care about those kids he the T-Rex comes through the sunroof, then it’s just not worth it.
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By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Indian Express)