priley84 loves movies and loves writing about them. He has written film reviews for his school paper and blogs.
- Director: Dan Trachtenberg
- Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro
- Rating: R (bloody violence)
“Prey” takes no prisoners. One of this summer’s most exhilarating action movies, it both reinvents the “Predator” franchise and layers it with thematic depth, thanks to a taut, character-driven script and well-choreographed action sequences.
—Valerie Kalfrin, Their Own League
For my money it’s the best since the original.
—Ty Burr, Ty Burr’s Watchlist
Prey: No Masterpiece, But Surprisingly Good
—The Critical Drinker
Praise on Rotten Tomatoes
Dang, this new Predator movie sounds kind of awesome. A good number of fans seem entertained by it, and the critics have showered the movie with so much praise that it currently sits at a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
While it’s true that the Rotten Tomatoes score should never be taken as Gospel, the idea of finally seeing a noteworthy Predator movie was too exciting for words, especially since I haven’t liked any of the movies since the original back in 1987.
While a part of me is tempted to revisit Predator 2 some day, given that many Predator fans seem to hold it in very high regard (my initial thoughts were that it was a very stylish but poorly scripted mess), every other entry has been so bad that you couldn’t pay me to watch them again (Shane Black’s 2018 The Predator was an absolute low point).
Intriguing Premise, Disappointing Execution
So, with all that said, is Prey really the Predator sequel we’ve all been waiting for? Could it really breathe fresh new life into a series that has been in desperate need since the original movie?
Having finally seen the film, I can say with complete confidence that I do not consider this an awful movie. The idea of taking the franchise back in time and telling the story through the point of view of a Comanche tribe was intriguing. After all, when we saw the Predator's ship crash land into Earth in the first movie’s opening scene, we weren’t exactly told when this was happening, so it does make sense.
Good Set Pieces and Beautifully Shot
Director Dan Tratchenberg creates a beautifully and atmospherically shot film, and while the action scenes are never exciting (I’ll say why in a moment), they are better directed than the junk we saw in this year’s The Grey Man from Netflix (seriously, the less said about that film, the better).
The story is very simple and to the point (Comanche girl tries to prove her worth to her village by hunting and killing the alien creature that’s already killed some of the villagers), and for a movie like this, you couldn’t ask for more. And…the Predator still looks cool.
Outside of those positives, I really didn’t care for Prey. I wouldn’t put it on my list for the worst movies of 2022, but no matter how hard I tried to embrace this movie, I just couldn’t do it. I will break down why this movie was just so aggressively mediocre to me in different sections, starting with…
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Problem #1: Protagonist Not Fully Developed
The first time I saw Amber Midthunder, it was as a victimized bank teller in the 2016 masterpiece Hell or High Water. She wasn’t in the movie for very long at all, but as an innocent kid who just had a gun pointed at her face, she really did sell her role as a traumatized survivor of a bank robbery.
It’s easy to see why she was cast in this role. She’s proven before that she has talent, and she’s an attractive screen presence to boot. Also, I don’t think anybody could accuse her character Naru of being a Mary Sue, given that she makes quite a few mistakes over the course of the film and has to learn from them. With that said, the character overall is flat and a bit of a bore.
A part of that has to do with the way the character is written. She is given no personality, no defining traits, and not much of an arc. She wants to prove that she’s as capable as the other hunters in her tribe, and…she has a pet dog she really likes. Outside of that, there’s really not a whole lot to her character.
One-Note Performance from Midthunder
Midthunder’s performance doesn’t really help matters any. She seems really one-note throughout the entire film. Even moments that should elicit a cry of pain merely result in a frustrated grunt, such as the scene where she gets her leg caught in a foothold trap.
Seriously, the look on her face when this happens is one of somebody being frustrated that they tripped after someone tied their shoelaces together. Wouldn’t she be crying and screaming in pain? A couple of scenes later, the Predator steps into the exact same trap, and boy, you should hear the scream of pain that comes out of its mouth.
This is, I should remind you, the same seven-foot, muscular creature who lifted a dead bear over its head earlier in the film, a scene that should have been awesome, but is ruined by my second gripe with the film....
Problem #2: CGI = Cheesy Graphic Imagery
Now, yes, I understand. The filmmakers could not use real bears, lions, and wolves with living and breathing actors. It’s much too dangerous. However, CGI has been used to convincingly integrate wild animals with shots of actors before, most memorably back in 2015 with The Revenant. That’s not my problem here. The problem that I have is that, apart from the effects used to create the Predator, the CGI effects are distressingly bad.
Take, for instance, the many wildlife creatures in the film. Apart from the heroine’s dog, all of them are CGI, and all of them look as though they never made it past the storyboard stage. They look so incredibly cheesy that they drain almost all of the tension from certain set-pieces.
Take the scene where Naru sees the Predator for the first time. She’s hiding inside a beaver dam from a vicious bear, and the Predator saves her by killing the bear, holding it over its head, and becoming drenched in the animal's blood. This should be an iconic and bad-ass scene, yet because of the weak special-effects, it comes across as cartoonish.
So with a weak heroine and some distracting visuals, this leads me to my third problem with the film…
Problem #3: Flawed Action Sequences
Again, the set-pieces are very well-shot and directed by Tratchenberg. The guy is a born filmmaker, and you can tell he worked his butt off to make sure they were good. I’ll even admit that there was a pretty cool moment where the Predator frees himself from a bear trap, picks it up, throws it at the face of an armed French fur trapper.
However, if we’re given no reason to care about the characters, and the visuals are as poor as they are here, it’s hard to find the action scenes exciting. What’s worse are the inconsistencies that take you out of certain moments. For example, we know the Predator doesn’t kill people if they are unarmed and helpless and, if the second movie is to be believed, pregnant. If you have a gun in your hand, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing with it, the Predator is going to kill you.
Plot Conveniences Undermine Action
Remember that scene in the original where Hawkins (Shane Black) chases down prisoner Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) in the forest? When he catches her, he tries to calm her down by saying “Please.” He’s not threatening anybody, but he had a machine gun in his hand, so the Predator killed him.
Now, let’s go back to that scene where Naru gets caught in the bear trap. The Predator approaches, lifts the chain the bear trap is attached to, and then leaves her alone. A handful of vile French fur trappers approach (each carrying a rifle), knock Naru out by hitting her with the butt of their rifle, and take her back to camp.
Why didn’t the Predator kill them? He is still very visible in the frame when we hear the fur trappers approaching. There is no way he didn’t see or hear them, but he still runs off because the plot needs him to, I guess.
Naru vs. The Predator
Then, there is the final battle between Naru and the creature. I was curious about this scene, because many people said that Naru had to use her intelligence to defeat the creature since there was no way for her to overpower it.
However, there is an instance where that is exactly what she does. First, she jumps on its back and tries to strangle it with a rope. The creature, of course, gets off with no problem, but with her hands still on the rope she wrapped around the creature’s neck, she gives it one good tug and the creature falls into a quicksand trap. How was she able to pull the creature into a trap of quicksand with one yank of a rope? I’m not sure, but that’s what happens in this film.
Ending Unclear: Is Naru OK? Is the Village OK?
Then she returns to her village with the creature’s severed head. Is she traumatized by her experiences? Not at all, even though she sees her brother (who was the head warrior in the tribe and she seems to be on good terms with) and several other people brutally murdered by the thing.
What made the first film’s ending so impactful is that when we see Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) being taken to safety, he may have beaten the creature in the end, but he was also clearly emotionally damaged and traumatized by his experiences. And this is a battle-hardened soldier we’re talking about here. Naru doesn’t seem to be emotionally affected by her experiences at all, which reiterates what I said before about her being a flat character.
And if the callback to Predator 2 in this final scene is indicative of anything, it’s that either her tribe is about to receive an unhappy ending with creatures later on, or some poor soul from her tribe is going to be caught with the pistol that eventually makes its way into Danny Glover’s hands and brutally murdered. Either way, it's not a pleasant thought for the movie to leave you with.
Honestly, I really tried with this one. Having just gotten out of the hospital recently, I was hoping for at least a mindlessly entertaining film to pass the time while I recovered. Unfortunately, even movies like that need characters you can get excited about, and Prey doesn’t have that at all.
While the movie is made with a fair amount of competence, the bad CGI and script issues held me at arm’s length and prevented it from working. That the movie is getting so much praise makes me not only confused, but sad.
Thin, Routine, and Forgettable
I wanted to join the crowd and sing this movie’s praises. I wanted to place another worthy Predator movie next to the original in my Blu Ray collection. I mean, heck, at the very least I was hoping for it to be a decent one-time watch.
However, in spite of the unquestionable craft that went into its making, Prey comes across as a thin, routine and pretty forgettable action film, and I honestly don't see where all the praise is coming from. You can tell that an effort was made with this one, but for me, it just didn’t work at all.
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)
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