‘Prey’: Terrific Hulu action film pits rising star against the Predator

Amber Midthunder, captivating and powerful, plays a Comanche teen taking on the translucent monster in 1719.

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Naru (Amber Midthunder) fights the Predator (Dane DiLiegro) in “Prey.”

20th Century Studios

We might be damning “Prey” with faint or should we say semi-invisible praise by saying it’s the best “Predator” movie since the original. The testosterone-fueled, “Get to the choppa!” B-movie classic of 1987 was followed by a series of forgettable sequels that reached a nadir with the execrable “Alien vs. Predator” (2004) and the somehow even worse “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem” (2007), but this IS the best entry in the franchise since the first one.

Against all odds, we actually find ourselves looking forward to another “Predator” movie — if it’s a direct sequel to this chapter, and it features the return of Amber Midthunder, who gives a captivating, live-wire of a performance as the driving force of the story.

With a strong script that features terrific action and economically efficient dialogue from Patrick Aison and crisp direction by Dan Trachtenberg (who’s now two-for-two in the “There’s Something Out There!” genre after his debut with “10 Cloverfield Lane” in 2016), “Prey” is a deep cut of a prequel, set in the Comanche Nation in the Great Plains in 1719.

‘Prey’

Untitled

20th Century Studios presents a film directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Patrick Aison. No MPAA rating. Running time: 99 minutes. Available Friday on Hulu.

“A long time ago, it is said, a monster came here,” says Midthunder’s Naru, an independent spirit who has honed her tracking, hunting and healing skills on her own, much to the amusement and sometimes derision of the male-dominated tribe, including her older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), who is clearly protective of his sister and keeps insisting she’s not ready to go out on her first hunt and might never be prepared for all the dangers lurking in the wild.

“Why do you want to hunt?” says Naru’s mother, Aruka (Michelle Thrush.)

“Because you all think I can’t!” comes the fast reply. (At times it feels as if Naru could be a live-action character in a forward-thinking Disney adventure—if that adventure included a giant killing being from the planet Yautja Prime.)

After a little foreshadowing involving some semi-cheesy, 1990s-level special effects that announce something wicked this way flies, with cinematographer Jeff Cutter contributing some terrific overhead shots, we’re plunged into a typical horror-movie storyline, with Naru the only one in the Comanche Nation who believes the tracks they’re finding are too big for a bear, and the carnage they’re discovering is too horrific to be caused by mountain lions. After all, Naru is just a silly teenage girl, and the men are skilled and fearless warriors!

“Prey” features a number of pulse-pounding set pieces, as when Naru literally finds herself up a tree and facing a mountain lion, or when she is plunged into a pit of quicksand (!) and has to come up with an ingenious means of escape. Time and again, Naru and her loyal dog escape danger, but this is the kind of rip-to-shreds movie that has us genuinely worrying that even the dog might not make it to the end. One of the most intense sequences involves an enormous bear who is about to gobble up Naru when you-know-who shows up.

And while the chief antagonist is indeed the Predator (played by Dane DiLiegro) in all his metallic-fingered, dreadlocked, translucent and monstrous glory, he’s just a Predator doing what a Predator is programmed to do—unlike a group of vicious, sadistic and ruthless French fur trappers, who take sick delight in their violence, whether it’s against animals or humans. As much as we’re rooting for Naru to take down the Predator, there’s possibly even more satisfaction to be had when she has to outwit and outfight those rotten trappers.

Time and again, Naru is underestimated—by her tribe, including her own family members; by those twisted and violent fur trappers; by animals in the wild and by the Predator, who at times seems indifferent to Naru, perhaps because she’s a woman, perhaps because she has no firepower of any kind, just a hatchet and a bow and arrow, and her guile. How can one teenage girl hope to take down this enormous, often invisible, ferocious, emotionally intelligent, extraterrestrial being with a wide array of weapons at its disposal? Let’s just say “Prey” comes up with ingenious ways to even the odds.

Just a few weeks ago, we saw Amber Midthunder give an authentic, impactful, moving performance as a very modern 24-year-old in the gripping romantic drama “The Wheel.” With Midthunderr’s blazing screen presence in “Prey”—moving with athletic grace through the wild, delivering her lines with power and wit and style, there’s little doubt we are witnessing the ascension of a true star.

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