August 17, 2022

After 35 years, a Predator reboot has finally succeeded. Followinga bevy ofunsuccessful attempts at rebooting the 1987 classic — most recently with the 2018 flop The Predator — director Dan Trachtenberg of 10 Cloverfield Lane has concocted a triumphant reprise of the menacing hunter with a prequel set in the 1700s.

In Prey, the titular antagonist is reduced to its fundamental roots. Unencumbered by the fanciful technology later padded into the franchise for such over-the-top sequels as Alien vs. Predator, the Predator depicted in Prey is more primal than futuristic. At its core, Prey explores what it means to be the alpha predator. Does it take strength or cunning?

When the Predator (Dane DiLiegro) first appears in the indigenous flat plains of North America, it begins scouring the earth for threats, seeking to perch itself atop the local food chain. The Predator sees a wolf hunting its prey and intervenes, killing it. In another scene, the Predator sets its eyes on a grizzly bear chasing a human and calculates the 700-pound feral beast to be the dominant creature; as the film goes on to show, it has miscalculated.

Played by Amber Midthunder, Naru is an aspiring hunter in her Native American tribe, the Comanche. Disinterested in pursuing a life of feminine chores, she charts a path akin to Disney’s Mulan. Naru surreptitiously trains with her hatchet and goes off hunting with her brother, honing her sense and skills.

Following the footsteps of most modern revivals of classic filmsPrey swaps its muscular ’80s macho-men leads for a female lead. But many such attempts entirely omit their protagonists’ development, overcompensating and crafting cartoonish deities.

For example, the new Star Wars trilogy introduced its female heroine as an orphan with such a knack for the force that she was effortlessly decimating enemies before ever wielding a lightsaber. Rey was effectively the same person at the beginning and end of the trilogy because her character never had to overcome any adversity to grow.

Naru, on the other hand, experiences the failings and tribulations of a real person. In an early scene, tracking a lion, she overestimates her litheness and misses her mark. Later, after taking a wrong step, she winds up stuck and sinking in quicksand. All these hurdles prepare her for her ultimate confrontation with the Predator once he begins hunting members of her tribe.

While some respite from realism is required for any Predator film, skeptics of Prey will likely ask how a feeble girl could survive the apex hunter. But braving the Predator’s crosshairs is a greater measure of brains than brawn. The 1987 original displayed this as well. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Dutch, eschewed his automatic arsenal when confronting the Predator, instead coating himself in mud to avoid detection and leveraging his environment to his advantage.

After all, “If it bleeds, you can kill it.” That same ethos that motivated the chiseled commandos from the original film also drives Naru. Hunting prey hasn’t changed much between centuries; the tools have evolved, but the fundamentals are axiomatic.

Whatever physical shortcomings beset Naru, she more than makes up for them with her cunning intellect. Toward the final act, she begins to understand the alien beast: “It doesn’t want bait. It doesn’t hunt that way.”

After six attempts at reviving the franchise, Prey is easily the best effort since the 1987 original. It’s a minimalist film — just 90 minutes in run time  — devoid of any tertiary love interests or side plots. Most importantly, Prey serves as a template not only for how to revive a bygone franchise, but for how to write a compelling female lead. And if you can find the option, the native Comanche language dubbed version with English subtitles offers an even more cohesive aesthetic.

Originally Published at The Washington Examiner