If I’m being completely honest, I think Prey is just as good as its first predecessor, 1987’s Predator. Saying that, I think this film was a lot more suited for the cinema than Predator, which is why it’s a shame that Prey was delegated exclusively to streaming services. But if I was held at gunpoint, I would probably still admit that Predator remains my personal favourite in the franchise. However, Naru, played by Amber Midthunder, is the best protagonist in the franchise. Like, I love Dutch and all his friends and cohorts, but Naru has a lot more going on than they did and is more interesting to me and others up front.
The fact that we finally have two amazing Predator films now is incredible to me; it’s almost difficult to believe it is real. When I first saw the trailer for Prey, my two main thoughts were that it had a good idea for a story but also that it seemed too good to be true. Hence I held onto doubts about whether or not this film would end up delivering. After all, years ago, I was super excited about Universal’s Dark World Universe’s The Mummy starring Tom Cruise based on its trailers, and I got burned. Plus, the previous Predator films have never been great, except for Alien vs. Predator’s third act.
By the way, if you want to check out an indigenous person’s review of the movie, Native Media Theory on YouTube has made several videos about the film and has interviewed several of the actors and makers for the film. I have gotten a lot out of his channel in the past, specifically from his series on Prey; I learned that the Predator franchise has a unique history with indigenous-American characters. And if you want a good rebuttal on the discourse about Naru being a Mary-Sue, I recommend checking out La’Ron Readus’ video about that particular thing.
Regarding the genre of the film, which applies to Predator as well, I see some describing this film as a thriller, not a horror. And if I’m being honest, I don’t know the technical difference between a thriller and a horror. I would describe Prey and Predator as horror-action films, but that makes me wonder is thriller just a shorthand for that? But on the other hand, I would not describe Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth as horror-action, but I would still describe it as a thriller. But at the same time, there are “typical” thrillers I’m in the mood for during Halloween. So if anyone wants to clear the differentiation between thriller and horror-action up with me, please do.
Concerning Prey’s Yautja, I have my interpretation of the horrifying alien and, by extension, my own understanding of the film and Naru’s story as a whole. According to the film’s concept artist Michael Vincent, this particular Yautja is from a desert region of their Homeworld with its own unique culture to that of the common Yautja. And fans have speculated that this Yautja, dubbed the “Feral Predator,” though I prefer to refer to him as the desert Yautja, is young and inexperienced and, given the circumstances, understandably overestimates himself. And his being dropped off on our planet to hunt could be reasonably interpreted as a rite of passage, his first off-world hunt.
This mirrors Naru, a young Comanche woman trained in medicine who wants to be a hunter and warrior. She wants to undergo a specific rite of passage and be recognised as a warrior in her tribe. Even though this is not generally considered a female role in their society. Because Naru has a lot more to prove, especially since her usually supportive brother outshines her significantly, she tends to overestimate her abilities at the beginning of her story, and we see her fail a lot.
At first, I was somewhat bothered by the fact that Naru, our story’s protagonist, wasn’t really good at what she was doing. This is because I am of the opinion that protagonists should be good at something from the start of the story, even if they have a long way to go in the grand scheme of things. For example, while Aang had not mastered the four elements, he was at least on an advanced level regarding airbending. However, once it was pointed out to me that Naru, unlike her brother and the other young hunter/warriors, was not trained but self-taught, I had a lot more appreciation for where she started at the beginning of the movie. It kind of reminded me of Rock Lee from Naruto. I apologise for measuring the film’s quality in units of anime; I will try to minimise that. And we see her develop her own methods of hunting and later her knowledge as a healer, a female role; all come together in her defeating the desert Yautja. And there is something very poetic about the film, where we have a protagonist who overestimates her abilities up against an antagonist who also overestimates himself, with him and everyone else in the story underestimating Naru, only for Naru to use that underestimation of herself to her advantage.
During the film, Naru, her dog and her brother Taabe are captured by French fur trappers. While communicating with Naru, one of the trappers refers to a previous encounter with a Yautja. This character is actually originally from a Predator comic called Predator: 1718, set one year or possibly a few months before this film. This comic was about pirates, and I assume the Yautja in question was a common species. I don’t think you have to read the comic to appreciate this detail; I myself have not read it. Instead, at the time, I found it to be a fascinating detail in the exposition to include in this film. And to think about its implications.
Why have two Yautja visits on Earth been so close to each other? Why does this Yautja have a more tribal look? How come we’ve never seen a Yautja with these characteristics before? Why is his technology comparatively primitive to other Yautjas’ gear? And what might the colonialist backdrop of the film be saying about this Yautja? And in turn, about Naru and her fellow Comanche?
My theory is that the desert Yautja is from a tribe on his Homeworld facing a territorial dispute and maybe even destruction. This is similar to what Naru learns about for her tribe when she discovers the nearby French colony encroaching on their territory. So in a way, both characters are facing the end of a way of life that comes with a highly significant need to survive the impending. And in that sense, when you think about it, you can feel some sympathy for both characters.
However, despite these implications, it’s not enough to make one be on the desert Yautja’s side over Naru’s. After all, the way of life for Naru and the Comanche in this film is to hunt to survive. And even though this Yautja is not like Yautjas, his way of life is still that of surviving to hunt, not hunt to survive. And this mirrors the wastefulness of the French colony, which took the hide of a bison only to leave the rest to rot. While the desert Yautja might have a slightly more complicated backstory than other Yautja, which makes him somewhat comparable to Naru, he’s still on another planet, and Naru has to do what she’s gotta do. Like the desert Yautja, Naru must ensure her survival to ensure her tribe’s survival.
To break this down, this is in writing when you make your protagonist’s and villain’s goals the opposite of each other while also making them exclusive to each other, creating a mirroring effect. This is brilliant, particularly for stories about two people who must destroy each other at all costs with no room for compromise. Especially when their ideologies are the way they are in the case of this movie; hunt to survive vs. survive to hunt.
Anyways this movie was awesome, and I think from now on, the franchise absolutely should go the route of being an anthology of self-contained stories — no question about it.