If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey, it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear. Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course, she does. She’s a girl, innit?
Not being familiar with eighteenth-century Native American social strata, I thought it might have been conceivable I was making grossly unfair assumptions, and perhaps Comanches were massively woke back then. And, if you google native American women warriors, pretty much the priority result would appear to confirm they were rampant… whereas all the others (assuming everyone doesn’t just accept the first on the search list) indicate a very much fixed and designated domestic role, all the way down to designation as merely possessions, and less than priority ones among hubby’s valuables. But what does that matter, right? I mean, how many actual Predators attacked actual Comanche tribes back then?
Relative to such a criterion, it probably doesn’t. But obviously, this whole woke flag waving is enormously tiresome, and since the makers are attempting to impress us with Prey’s dedication to historical accuracy (give or take the bit about progressive roles for women), it’s fair game. The presentist approach might not seem quite so glaring if lead Amber Midthunder (who previously made an impression in Legion) didn’t resemble a Native American Molly Ringwald. And thus, the last person you’d expect to be baiting bears and taking out five French trappers like she’s a wicked-cool martial-arts Predator herself, before confronting the great beast of an alien hunter and giving him thoroughly what-for (via some canny hoisting him by his own petard/skull cap). Naru’s basically the latest in the thoroughly exhausted superhuman woman-waif Buffy lineage, so bearing zero resemblance any female of any period or culture outside the conception of trailblazing feminist icon Joss Whedon.
Prior to her transformation into super-ninja, Naru’s singularly identified by a pissy, petulant mood, because it’s like sooooooo unfair no one accepts her as a warrior. Essentially, she’s just another case of the difficult teenagers, one who seemingly has similar aptitude for closing her mouth to the average goldfish. Her contemporaneity is compounded by the all the tribal boys – the meanies who won’t accept her – sounding like surfer brahs. Doubtless, the Comanche soundtrack version would do no harm in this regard, but as it is, there’s zero attempt at verisimilitude (Dakota Beavers looks the part as Naru’s brother, but he sounds like he should be hanging out with Jesse and Chester).
Naru: You think that I’m not a hunter like you… and I am not a threat. That is what makes me dangerous.
Obviously, Naru succeeds where all those stupid menfolk in her tribe – and even her less stupid brother – and all the stupid and odious Frenchmen fail. Ah yes, the Frenchies. These Frenchies are the most horrid, nasty Frenchies you could possibly imagine. Such that were supposed to think it’s richly deserved when she cuts one’s legs off and uses him as Predator bait. And it’s true. He’s unendingly slavering and vituperative, as well as being French (“You bled my brother, so now you bleed”). He deserves to have rats nibbling at his bloody stumps! Naru also gives a speech about how, as she’s mistaken for just another hormonal twentieth-century American teenager, she’s grossly underestimated. Yeah, you go girl!
One has to ask, with all this diligence – if you want to call it that – paid to the portrayal of Native Americans, where the similar regard for the Predators went (we won’t vouch for the sensitivity towards the French voyageurs, obviously, as they’re French). I’m guessing there were no actual Predators on the crew; they were busy lurking around Disney World and its catacombs. As it, is Prey does rather expose the Predators’ limited capacity for fair play. Realistically and legitimately, he should restrict himself to the same standard of weaponry as his opponents, as well as tying one hand behind his back. The only surprise when he kills and skins the wolf is that he doesn’t do the same to the poor bunny rabbit.
The thing is, Prey’s a very silly film, but conversely an extremely well-directed one. Trachtenberg stages the action with precision and skill, easily confident in his pace and cutting. And, based on his depiction of the creature, I’d liked to have seen a movie where the Predator is the hero; several sequences – Predator vs Grizzly, Predator vs Frenchies attacking him en masse – get you fully behind his skill set and make him much more rootable for than nauseating Naru the Predator Slayer (on the Frenchies subject, while they’re canny enough to lay traps, they’re in complete disarray once the confrontation occurs, little more than cannon fodder; Trachtenberg should have made some of them vaguely competent for tension’s sake, instead of merely loud and obnoxious). If nothing else, Prey had me itching to see Predator vs Bone Tomahawk, but I somehow suspect S Craig Zahler isn’t at the top of the list of directors Disney wants to work with.
On the hidden history front, I note that Prey is set in September 1719, which corresponds, near enough, to the date of the destruction event – mudflood, or more accurately flood – that decisively altered humanity’s path (this being the Anunnaki taking control of the Earth).* Perhaps coincidental, but coming after Night Sky, which also marks 1720 as a significant date (for the fallen world), it might rather be intentional.
Honestly, for all that Trachtenberg has delivered a polished, effective piece of action cinema, Prey is more than a little insufferable. Because it’s so transparent, so shameless. We’ve had some unlikely opponents of Predators in the sequels – Danny Glover with his rickets, Adrien Brody getting alarmingly buff – and even in the AvPs – Sanaa Lathan making pals with a Predator – but this is something else. Prey is so flagrant, it’s borderline parody. The end credits show the return of the Predator ship in illustrated form. With any luck, we’ll be spared such an eventuality.
*Addendum 05/09/22: At least, directly.
First published by Now in Full Color on 07/08/22.