Another day, another 20th Century Studios film sent to the Hulu graveyard by The Big Mouse in his efforts to slowly choke the life out of the once thriving 87-year-old studio. While assuring audiences from the time of the acquisition that films from the studio formerly known as 20th Century Fox would continue to receive both theatrical and streaming releases, every month it seems to become far more clear that Disney is utilizing Hulu as a dumping ground for the rest of the 20th Century Studios films on their slate before integrating it entirely into its big green adult streaming service. This intent is most clear with them taking a new film in a popular franchise, directed by the acclaimed director of 10 Cloverfield Lane and one of very few films to feature a nearly entirely Indigenous American cast, and burring it among the slate of their streamer.
And in the case of Prey, a prequel in the Predator franchise, it’s more of a shame because it’s the only installment after the first one to actually be good.
Set in the 18th century, in Comanche Land (now the stolen lands known as Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and some areas of the now Mexican state of Chihuahua), Prey follows a young woman, Naru (Amber Midthunder), as she tries to prove her worth as a hunter in her village, despite objections of those around her doubting her worth for being a woman. When Naru witnesses a predator ship flying overhead during an expedition, her fellow hunters do not believe her testimony, and despite unknown tracks and massacred animals pervading the forests surrounding them, they treat the hunt as one for a large bear. Soon, this unknown predator makes itself known to the party, and Naru finds herself facing off alone against the world’s most dangerous predator.
What works so wonderfully about Prey is that it proves that so many franchises struggling to eke out a competent new entry would do well to step back, take a breath, and actually consider what made the thing that made it into a franchise did so well. Prey, unlike every Predator film after the 1987 original, actually scales back the scope of the project, and taps into the intimate, one-on-one, man vs. killing machine thrills that made Predator so memorable to begin with. This is a simple, white-knuckle thriller that doesn’t try to expand upon lore, or set up a Predator Extended Universe, or anything of the sort, and coming from Disney (by proxy of the studio they’re trying to euthanize), that’s actually quite surprising. More franchises could take some major notes from this in what audiences actually want from recognizable franchises.
What so many other Predator films forget to do while crafting themselves is that, while yes, audiences show up for the Predator, it’s nothing without a solid cast of characters to root for as they battle said Predator. Predator is just as much, if not more of, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vehicle than it is of the character of the Predator. Prey shines here because while the usage of the Predator is wonderfully tense, Prey is first and foremost Amber Midthunder’s film, and she is an absolute star. What’s so wonderful about her presence is how, despite being very capable, Naru, even in the film’s climax, only works off of the assumption that something will work against the Predator, creating a palpable sense of risk that keeps audiences on the edge of their seat. Mix this with her focus on clever stealth techniques as opposed to aggressive head-on combat, mirroring that of the Predator itself, and it’s an incredibly entertaining take on the formula. One must sit and wonder who of the two is the eponymous Prey here.
Directed by 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg, I can’t say that I came into this having much faith that taking on a now Disney-owned franchise film was going to be the right follow-up to such a wonderfully inventive little thriller (one of the best films of 2016) to prove that such an accomplishment wasn’t just a one-hit-wonder. Thankfully, there are a ton of the Cloverfield strands peppered throughout here, and keeping in tradition, Trachtenberg finds a way to make the insurmountable feel intimate and human, keeping everything at the ground level. Though, this smaller viewing scale doesn’t make me any less angry that we won’t get to see Trachtenberg’s full vision on the largest and loudest IMAX screens possible. This is a film born for it, but now we’re relegated to, at best, experiencing it on a Smart TV. If you watch this on your phone, just don’t.
While I can’t speak to the specifics of the Indigenous representation at hand in Prey (some Indigenous people who have seen it have been complimentary of it), I have to respect the effort that has gone into both taking away the sensationalist Hollywood view of Indigenous peoples here, as well as including the option of watching the film in either English or Comanche, which I think is a wonderful touch to really show that the story being told isn’t solely here for an aesthetic, as so many other films do. This option is perhaps the only benefit to having this go to Hulu.
Prey isn’t going to blow the roof off of the Oscars like Mad Max: Fury Road or Avatar, but dear god there is something to be said for a franchise film uninterested in a larger universe, existing solely for the sake of entertainment, and actually putting effort into it as opposed to just writing it off as “dumb fun” to excuse being lazy. The fact that this film feels so fresh compared to the shitty CGI cash-grabs put out by The Big Mouse is proof alone about how films with actual creative value are being treated in the new studio system. I really don’t understand why something like Prey feels so revolutionary in this day-and-age, but an exceedingly competent blockbuster action film, with a unique perspective, wonderful performances, and a hard R-rating in 2022 feels like a damn miracle.
[Editor’s Note: In a recent interview with Screen Rant, director Dan Trachtenberg suggests a reason as to why Prey is on Hulu and not in theaters: so that it can be available on Hulu vs. HBO first.]
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
Available for streaming on Hulu August 5th, 2022.