NOC Review: Amber Midthunder Hits Her Target Dead On in ‘Prey’

The Predator film franchise centered on the clash between its race of a highly evolved race of aliens who hunt alphas for sport versus man. While its predecessors were as bloody and violent as the next, Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey goes back to basics with a primal and bloody David vs. Goliath story that not only is worthy of being a part of the iconic franchise but something could stand on its own thanks to Amber Midthunder’s astonishing performance that subverts tropes in a way that finally makes indigenous cultures the heroes of their own story.

Set 300 years ago, Prey follows Naru (Midthunder), a fierce and innovative warrior determined to be a hunter like her elder brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers). Raised in the shadow of some of the most legendary hunters who roam the Great Plains, Naru is determined to prove herself a great warrior and hunter by confronting the danger threatening her home.

To capture her Ku̵htaamia – or big hunt as translated in the film – and protect her people, Naru continuously tracks alpha predators. But she will soon discover the prey she is hunting is, in actuality, a highly evolved alien who uses a technologically advanced arsenal to hunt other predators for sport.

Prey serves as a prequel and soft reboot for the long-running sci-fi actioner that truly embraces the idea of who is the superior hunter. Transpiring in present-day 20th and 21st centuries, soldiers of fortune confront the Predators in various locations, either on earth or other planets; the franchise itself was long overdue for something new and fresh. So, by setting it in the past, we get to see a more primal story of the human versus Predator dynamic, one that sees its characters rely more on their skills as hunters and less on modern-day weaponry like guns or laser targeting systems.

Unlike the Predator movies that came before, Prey goes back to its roots by recognizing that the concept of the hunt guides the story. In the film, we see the purposes of the hunt from the perspective of the Commanche and the Predator. Shots of Naaru and her fellow tribesman utilizing every fiber of their hunts speak to not wasting kills. We see how they use the meat for sustenance to the fur for warmth. In contrast, the Predator kills for sport. It’s a subtle way of visualizing a battle for which ideal is the right one. And it’s done through action. It’s something that elevates consistently throughout the film at an organic pace that allows us to see what these hunts mean to each of the respective characters.

Visualizing these hunts is a visceral experience. Trachtenberg puts audiences right into the action, and cinematographer Jeff Cutter ensures that Prey isn’t just shots of the beauty of the Northern Great Plains of Canada. Instead, these are precise shots that are action-packed and full of kinetic energy. The way the camera moves, and at the pace it does is perfect for the story and reflects upon the art and patience of hunting.

Amber Midthunder as Naru in 20th Century Studios’ PREY, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

And Prey dares to do something new without sacrificing anything about what makes the Predator films so great. It didn’t need to go bigger with CGI-filled action sequences and more paramilitary forces fighting the titular franchise alien. Instead, it takes a step back and relies on what made it so great, to begin with. 

Midthunder’s Naru no longer wants to live in the shadow of her elder brother, who is the only one who recognizes her talents. Yet, even though she instinctively knows how to hunt and track by understanding her prey’s movements and patterns, she is constantly undermined and disrespected by her male peers. Moreover, they mock her innovation and see her ingenuity as a weakness. By contrast, we see how much of that ingenuity pays off in her fight for survival against the elements and her fight against the Yautja – or Predator alien. Both instances are grueling and intense, playing to the Naru’s intelligence, perseverance, and strengths.

So it’s great to finally have these new modern-day twists on a period piece installment of a fan-favorite franchise. Not only do we get to see a female taking the lead in a Predator film, but Prey makes a groundbreaking first by seeing the indigenous community as they should be seen, as the heroes of their own story. For too long, they have been unfairly depicted as the sidekick, incapable of being able to save themselves, or as the villain. But Prey subverts the tropes and stereotypes by authentically representing the characters.

Not only that, but we get to see this organic character development that builds upon the idea that Naru is making the right decisions and uses only her ingenuity and talents as a tracker to claim her hunt and protect her people. In many ways, by placing Midthunder as the lead character, we see the classic David vs. Goliath told in a new way. One where we get to see how others undermind her and a display of her strength and heart of any warrior.

We often see her by herself hunting bigger and worse predators. From frightening grizzly bears being the most fearsome creatures that nature can produce to the fearsome Yautja, Naru’s right of passage is also an action-packed coming of age story. And that inevitable battle is full of intensity and gore and isn’t at all afraid to shy away from the violence. 

Harlan Kywayhat as Itsee in 20th Century Studios’ PREY, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

And Prey’s action is unlike anything that came before it. The Yautja is stripped of its highly-technological weaponry and forced to use unsophisticated weaponry like basic shields, spears, and arrows. Even the mask’s skull-like features make the Yautja feel more primitive. Still, it’s not completely simple, as the alien still has a few signature things like tri-laser guidance targeting systems and retractable blades.

Aside from that, the film itself is a physically demanding one that pits Midthunder against the likes of mother nature herself. Whether it’s digging herself out of mud that is trying to swallow her or trying to hide from a bear by swimming into the dangerous cold running waters of the Great Northern Plains, Midthunder owns it all. And that makes the fight between herself and the Yujata not just better but something organic and earned. And the action sequences don’t exceed their setting’s perimeters allowing for something that’s believable.  

Prey’s action-driven approach makes it one of the best Predator films to date. Trachtenberg crafts a primal David vs Goliath story, and producer Jhane Myers helps it stay authentic to the Comanche’s culture, while Midthunder acts as a fearless guide taking us through the forest and has us experience a hunt unlike any other. The unfortunate downside to something so visceral and well-executed is that won’t get the big screen treatment it deserves.

Grade: B+