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MOVIES: Prey - Review



Despite its straight to Hulu and Disney+ release strategy that meant it bypassed theatres entirely, Prey is sure as hell not anything less than spectacular just because it aired on the small screen. It revitalises the Predator format and drags it kicking and screaming into the modern age after the Shane Black movie died on arrival back in 2018 - the update of the setting that switches it to Great Plains in 1719 reaffirms the need that not every sequel needs to be part of a grand cinematic universe, like Top Gun: Maverick, sometimes, the best approach is a simple one.

Our protagonist Naru looks to prove herself as a hunter - but the first hunt against a lion doesn't go over too well. The men who she surrounds herself with take her tracking abilities with disbelief and leave her behind, stealing her kill of the lion from under her after she's distracted by a series of strange lights. It doesn't take long for Naru to work out that something is amiss and it's no ordinary bear that they're hunting - in fact - it's the creature that's hunting them; a Predator from another world, that can turn invincible on command and has advanced weaponry that would pale even in comparison to modern technology, let alone the muskets of the 1700s. The gauntlet is thrown, and one by one, Naru's companions die all around her.

It's a thrilling back-to-basics plot as Dan Trachtenberg takes the Alien formula and turns it into a new beast; Naru feels like a modern Ripley but with enough personality and distinction to make her own character, and much of that is down to the sheer brilliance of Amber Midthunder; great ever since Legion and Banshee of course, but really revelling in being the lead in her own franchise - the sheer passion and commitment that she throws into the role is evident from the start. You buy every second of Naru's battle with CGI-heavy monsters and the grit and the gore of Prey comes through; alien or not, everything feels completely convincing. On a first viewing there was no overtly obvious CGI that felt distracting - and nothing that took you out of the film even when an alien ship flies above the great plains in 1700s America, Trachtenberg - no stranger to sci-fi since 10 Cloverfield Lane, really excelling in the genre format. At this point just let him work his magic with any science fiction franchise that he wants to.

His craft of action choreography is well utilised and it's refreshing to get a movie that doesn't feel ashamed of itself by trying to get away with every corny moment by saying "well, that just happened", there's no "we should call it a Predator" moment or something equally stupid - in fact as one thing this franchise isn't, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the best decision is to keep Prey a largely dialogue-free experience to the point where it feels more at home when compared to the likes of The Revenant than say, anything in its own franchise is a good thing, as it allows as a nice palette cleanser and a good entry point to the franchise for those unfamiliar. Midthunder's near-wordless performance is one of the best of the year so far - everything is shown through her expressions and you buy every second of them.

The tension and enduring dread that passes every second of Prey only escalates throughout the film and it doesn't lose its way in the third act - in fact; the film keeping itself on the edge of your seats from start to finish is one of its biggest strengths; even when the stakes are raised they never feel cheap - and that's in part due to how personal the whole thing feels for Naru. Its strong storyline of empowerment and the need to prove yourself gives her a simple but effective motivation; and as a result, she's an easy to like character, benefiting from the lack of a need to carry the weight of a cinematic universe on her shoulders. This is Naru's movie; all the better for it.

The cinematography on show is excellent and really immerses you in the world - the action sequences are brutal as they come and the landscape is appropriately picturesque. Jeff Cutter's balance of natural beauty and sense of looming dread befitting of Naru's journey feels strikingly memorable; and the silhouette shots of their own create a whole new approach, feeling evocative and instantly memorable. The bait sequence in particular that takes place towards the end of the film; rather than feeling cheap for its usage of smoke and lights to obscure the action, instead only uses it to create a sense of dread, with some incredibly smart stylistic choices being made by all accounts. Sarah Schachner's soundtrack feels etheral, otherworldly and naturalistic at the same time - balancing that sense of world and mood lighting with the thrill of the hunt; but from the Predator and that of Naru.

Everything feels essential, the movie doesn't waste time in setting up world building that doesn't need to be there or characters that don't need to be, everything advances Naru's story one step further. It feels smart without the need to feel pretentiously so, and benefits from a back-to-basics, brutalist approach where you actually believe at any given second any of these characters can die. Never has that felt so refreshing.

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