Saturday, August 6, 2022

The brutal Predator prequel Prey manages to leave nostalgia behind

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D: Dan Trachtenberg. Starring: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, Julian Black Antelope. 15.99 minutes.

prey didn’t have to be a Predator movie. All of these decades-long sequels, including Shane Black’s poorly received 2018 sequel, have lived in the shadow of this single, canonized image of a glittering Arnold Schwarzenegger in his war paint. None of them came even close to replicating this muscle-bound greatness. but prey succeed by not even trying. His thrill doesn’t just depend on what the audience is already familiar with. It’s not driven by nostalgia – an extremely rare thing to see in mainstream cinema these days.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t quiver with childish glee when our intergalactic colossus of killers emerges with his jaws like an origami fortune teller. But this is first and foremost a brutal, heart-pounding, emotionally rich story about an Indigenous Comanche woman struggling to survive out in the American wilderness. It just so happens that about halfway through, a trophy-hunting alien also shows up to join the game. In fact, the film’s director, Dan Trachtenberg, originally intended it prey marketed with no indication of its franchise connections until news leaked online and the surprise was ruined. It’s a shame – this could have been an all-timer of a narrative twist.

Set somewhere in the 17th century in the Comanche Nation, Prey follows Naru (Amber Midthunder), a woman who, despite her elders’ warnings, urges to reverse patriarchal tradition and pass the initiation test that would cement her place as a slayer. The Comanche men show little sympathy. When she suggests setting bait for the mountain lion they’ve been tracking, they mistake her cunning for weakness. But when it comes to fending off a Predator, Naru’s home advantage is pretty much all she’s got. Out there among the trees, the flowers, and the earth lies every hope of survival.

And Trachtenberg’s film, working from a screenplay by Patrick Aison, makes the most of this low-key environment. As the intricate melee sequences play out, the crunch of bones seems to rebound through the room you’re in – as does the satisfying thud of a throwing ax as it embeds itself in a log. The night scenes look surprisingly rich, lit by single torches or the Laser Quest green glow of a Predator’s spilled blood.

There’s even a wicked sense of humor embedded in the chaos. A rabbit watches with relief as a predator uproots a wolf. Elsewhere, a group of panicked French-Canadian fur trappers try to reload their muskets while the alien adjusts its laser sights. The film was made for the big screen and deserves to be seen. But it happened to be the victim of a corporate power struggle — Disney is dropping it straight to streaming, as a previous deal would have required a theatrical film to go to HBO Max first. preyarguably, was let down by the fact that Disney has too much faith in the project.

Put aside the unfortunate consequences of the film’s own success, and there is something profoundly significant about an Indigenous-led narrative so proudly aligned with a Hollywood project. The details of Comanche life are overseen with great care by producer Jhane Myers – a Comanche and Blackfoot advocate and artist who has been able to take a more practical role than the traditional “consultant” positions that projects can take in a more performative way merit while rarely lending a voice to the individuals depicted. The film was shot in both English and Comanche, with both versions slated to be available on Disney+.

Naru weaves rope from the fibers of tree bark and desperately tries to re-stretch a broken bow before a bear attacks. Midthunder brings a quiet determination to these scenes. It’s a star-making performance. Naru is a relatively reserved character who communicates with us more through body language than words. Still, Midthunder has that kind of natural, undefinable gravitational pull that recaptures the audience’s attention even in moments of quiet.

Prey’s setting makes logical sense – the ruthlessness of the Predator, who only hunts out of pride, is mirrored in the actions of the white colonizers, who leave behind nothing but burnt forests and fields of dead buffalo. But the film also challenges the common assumption that indigenous peoples like the Comanche were simply outclassed by the might of European gunfire, when in reality the story of American expansion was a story achieved through persistent subterfuge and betrayal. The Comanches were indeed very adept at defending themselves against their oppressors. And the film repeatedly sees Naru as successful above all because those around her never treat her as a plausible threat. And so, amidst the extraterrestrial chaos, Trachtenberg’s film lands on a broader, more empowering message – that the marginalized and forgotten in all forms already have the tools they need to survive.

“Prey” will start streaming August 5 on Disney+ in the UK and Hulu in the US

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