Prey (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Her big game

“Prey”, the fifth installment of the Predator franchise which was released on Disney+ two days ago, is a wonderful surprise for this summer. This is another variation of the story formula established in “Predator” (1987), but it has enough style and personality to distinguish itself well on the whole, and it is really a shame that this solidly entertaining flick somehow went straight to streaming service instead of released in theaters.

In contrast to its predecessors which are set in a contemporary or near-future background, the movie is set in the Great Northern Plain of North America in 1719, and its opening part quickly introduces and then establishes its young Native American heroine. She is Naru (Amber Midthunder), and this plucky Comanche lass has aspired to be recognized as a hunter just like her older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) and other male tribe members, but, to her frustration, she is usually expected to do what most of female tribal members are expected. She does try a lot, but she still has lots of things to learn and experience for attaining her goal, and even her brother has some reservation on whether she can actually succeed.

Anyway, Naru follows after her brother and several other young tribal members when they go into a nearby forest for tracking down a mountain lion which took away one of their tribe members. She is naturally not welcomed much, but Tabbe allows her to join the group mainly because she can be useful as a tracker in addition to being able to provide some medical help.

It seems that they will soon accomplish their task, but Naru comes to notice something strange at one point. What she discovers suggests that there is something more dangerous lurking somewhere in the forest area, and she suspects that this is connected with a certain strange happening in the sky she previously witnessed. Not so surprisingly, her brother and his male colleagues do not pay much attention to her discovery or what she says, because they are mostly occupied with tracking down that mountain lion and then rescuing that poor dude.

Of course, Naru’s instinctive inference turns out to be right, and we are soon served with what we expect from the very beginning. A member of that infamous alien tribe already came into the area for its hunting time, and, as frequently covering itself with that familiar invisible shield, it commits gruesome savagery on any animal which looks threatening enough to be hunted and then killed, At one point, it surreptitiously watches upon a wolf which happens to be preying upon a little cute rabbit, and then it swiftly strikes upon that wolf with no mercy while probably enjoying the nasty pleasure for showing who is the boss.

Meanwhile, Taabe and his colleagues eventually accomplish their task, but Naru is still fixated on her odd discovery, so she decides to take care of the matter for herself. Without telling anyone, she leaves along with her dog for tracking down for whatever is lurking out there, and she soon comes to face a number of challenges in the wilderness which surely test how brave and resourceful she can really be.

It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that our heroine eventually comes to behold that vicious alien hunter, but the screenplay by Patrick Aison has a few nice surprises for us while steadily accumulating tension and suspense along the narrative. At one point, the situation unexpectedly becomes more complicated as Naru happens to be stuck between the alien hunter and a bunch of unpleasant figures introduced later in the story, and we surely get some morbidly ironic fun from that.

Nevertheless, the movie still focuses on how its heroine comes to show more shrewdness and toughness along the story. She does not seem to have much chance in defeating the alien hunter in many aspects, but she comes to discern several things which she can use for her advantage, and she is certainly willing to take a chance for proving herself in addition to surviving her perilous circumstance in the end.

During its last act, the movie goes for a full-action mode as expected, and director Dan Trachtenberg, who previously drew our attention for his solid debut feature film “10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016), skillfully handles the following action scenes. These action scenes are packed with considerable visceral thrill and excitement, and the movie does not disappoint us at all when it finally arrives at the rousing climax where our heroine goes all the way for defeating her mighty opponent.

As the center of the film, Amber Midthunder gives a strong lead performance, and she is also supported well by her fellow Native American cast members including Dakota Beavers and Michelle Thrush, who provides some wordless gentleness as Naru’s concerned mother. For bringing extra authenticity to the film, Trachtenberg also prepared the Comanche version in addition to the English version, and it will be interesting to see how this version, which is also available on Disney+, feels different compared to the English version.

In conclusion, “Prey” provides us more than gory and violent entertainment, and I enjoyed its efficient handling of mood, story, and characters. I must confess that I only watched “Predator”, but that did not prevent me from being entertained by a number of effective moments in “Prey”, and that surely says a lot about its considerable accomplishment.

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