Prey is the best Predator movie in years, and this is how Dan Trachtenberg did it.
Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey has been getting a lot of love over the weekend, and rightfully so. The fifth film in the Predator franchise, which has seen a lot of ups and downs over the last 35 years, takes the franchise back to its roots, opting for a simple, clean action horror movie set in the wilderness.
Fans of the franchise, including Predator alum Jesse Ventura, have been praising the film’s ability to capture similar magic that the original film had found while still being its own movie. Prey is a standalone adventure that proves a sequel doesn’t have to rely on IP awareness by focusing heavily on subtle worldbuilding and centering the story on the protagonist, rather than the titular villain.
The World of Prey
Taking place in the Comanche Nation in 1719, Naru (Amber Midthunder) seeks to prove her abilities and protect her community from a predator that is hunting their lands. While the first act plays out like every other Predator sequel with the protagonist trying to solve a mystery we already know the answer to, Trachtenberg chooses to show us both Naru’s and Predator’s hunt for each other, allowing the audience to watch both characters develop through their unique journeys while building the world around them.
We’ve seen a Predator kill unsuspecting people before, but not like this. The Predator's design is slightly different. The head is now evenly proportioned with the body and the gear it uses feels slightly dated. From the bone-skull mask that still features a heads-up display to a changed tri-laser targeting weapon that shoots arrows. The technology is still ahead of human tech, but it shows how the Yautja have evolved over the years. It’s a subtle bit of worldbuilding that makes the film feel grounded.
Prey’s focus on an authentic depiction of the Comanche people establishes a protagonist that feels tangible. Producer Jhane Myers, a Comanche and Blackfeet artist, dancer, and filmmaker, served as the Comanche cultural advisor. Myers worked with Trachtenberg on scenes to depict accurate representations, such as the sequence towards the end where Naru whistles at night, which has a deeper and more sinister meaning for certain Indigenous tribes.
The attention to detail that went into Prey’s portrayal of the Comanche tribe is incredible to see on a movie of this scale.
“Not only does it hopefully revitalize language and preservation within the Comanche Nation, but it brings the Comanche language and the culture to the world,” Myers told The Oklahoman. “On Aug. 5th, the world will be able to hear Comanche, and to me, that’s just something that’s incredible. I would have never dreamed that that could happen.”
Another small detail that builds the world of Prey is when Naru is captured by the French traders who treat the Comanche like animals. Since the story is from Naru’s perspective, the French are presented as speaking a completely foreign language that the film refuses to translate. The audience must infer what they are saying in the same way Naru does.
The world of Prey exists in the details. While they are small at times, like Naru placing a leaf on the head of a skinned buffalo or how the Predator brawls with creatures it sees as threats, these details tell an audience about a character’s place in the world and the motives that drive them to the story's climax.
A Protagonist to Root For
Like Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, an original screenplay that is connected to the Cloverfield universe, Prey’s screenplay showcases the human protagonist as the action-hero we want to see more of, which is saying a lot when there is a kick-ass trophy hunter with killer gadgets jumping from tree to tree.
That is the power of Trachtenberg’s storytelling. He understands that the monsters in his stories are what push the narrative forward, but the story is essentially about the human desire and perseverance to survive. Hollywood tends to forget this, focusing on the creature or villain that has become a pop culture staple rather than the hero that the audience should be rooting for.
Naru’s driving purpose in Prey is to complete the “kühtaamia,” a rite of passage to be accepted as a warrior and hunter, and her opportunity comes after failing her first big hunt. Her goal is to not only prove herself capable but to ensure her tribe’s continued safety.
It matters that Naru holds the screen for the 97-minute run time, even if she is merely prepping or avoiding battle. Prey actively works to keep the story personal, taking a slow-burn approach to the sci-fi elements while telling the story of a woman who wants to rise from the shadows of her more famous warrior family members.
This intimate story makes the Predator feel all the more threatening. Trachtenberg has a great sense of building tension out of the mundane, making normal tasks like eating or sitting in a tree feel like something is out of place. It’s a level of tension that has been lacking in the Predator franchises for a while, so it’s nice to return to the edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting action that builds throughout the film to ultimately bring Naru’s story to its natural conclusion.
What makes this one of the best genre and franchise films is how Tranchtenberg understands that the most interesting part of the story isn’t the big bad, but rather about how the humans we’ve become attached to deal with it.
Prey works regardless of whether you’ve seen a Predator movie. That’s a huge feat in the face of modern Hollywood and its obsession with reboots and sequels. The story structure feels reminiscent of a classic creature feature from the 70s and 80s while giving the audience one of the best action heroes that we’ve seen in a long, long time.
Like Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Naru and her tribe are not concerned with the “whys” of the creature, but rather what they need to do to survive and fight back.
Check out Prey streaming on Hulu now.
Have you watched Prey? Let us know what you loved about the film in the comments below!