John McTiernan’s 1987 Predator is a classic genre-bender that begins as an action movie about a colorful band of military operatives on a rescue mission in the jungles of Central America. What might have been just a post-Vietnam War version of The Dirty Dozen — what Quentin Tarantino calls a “bunch-of-guys-on-a-mission movie” — quickly turns into a sci-fi nightmare when the dense greenery is painted red by an off-world hunter collecting human prizes.
Predator gave moviegoers a tough-guy cast for the ages, including pre-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, pre-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, post-Rocky Carl Weathers and beloved, rugged character actors Bill Duke and Sonny Landham. It also brought us one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time.
Predator is still a fun watch, but the sequels have mostly disappointed. Predator 2 (1990) finds the creature terrorizing contemporaneous Los Angeles, and it’s grown a cult following thanks to Danny Glover as a police lieutenant spitting lines like, “Hey kid, welcome to the war.” Predators (2010) gives us a “bunch-of-mercenaries-kidnapped-to-an-alien-game-reserve” film, featuring a great but underutilized cast. And The Predator (2018) pits a band of soldiers against a pair of Predators, but that one fell flat with audiences and critics alike.
Now Prey — a Predator prequel helmed by 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Dan Trachtenberg — comes to Hulu. This installment aims to build a story within the Predator universe while attempting a unique take on the original formula: In the Northern Great Plains in 1719, a young Comanche woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder) joins the other women and babies in her band harvesting breadroot, but she’d rather be hunting with her brother. After inexplicably trying to take down a white-tailed deer with a hatchet, she finds herself at the edge of a cliff staring at a turbulence churning across the sky — a writhing cloud full of fire and lightning. Naru tells her brother she’s seen a vision of a thunderbird, and that it’s time for her to be initiated as a hunter. And when one of the warriors is dragged off by a mountain lion, Naru gets her wish and joins her brother on a rescue mission.
The decision to think outside the straight-ahead Predator formula is one of many good choices here. The plot is pinned together with coming-of-age actioner story and clichéd dialogue, but the sins aren’t so great that this able-bodied cast can’t make it work. Midthunder is in nearly every scene and manages to make her retro-feminist character believable. It helps that both the most mundane and the most fantastic elements of the story feel grounded: Her side-eyeing mom and hero brother are loving but understandably doubtful about Naru’s huntswoman ambitions. Her first hunt is a disaster, and she can’t win the respect of the warriors and make them believe her warnings about the Predator. The wild-animal and cloaking-device effects are intense fun here, and a blood-drenched Predator-versus-grizzly fight gives us one of the best monster reveals in the franchise. (Where was this dude when Leo needed him in The Revenant?)
Prey works because it speaks to Naru’s realistic “weaknesses” instead of imbuing her with less-than-believable strengths. She’s small, but she’s quick; she’s not strong, but she’s smart; nobody believes in her, and therefore they never see her coming. For the full immersion, check out the optional all-Comanche-language version of Prey when it debuts on Hulu.