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Prey Review

To earn her stripes as a warrior, Comanche hunter Naru (Midthunder) must take the ritual of kühtaamia and bring down a particularly dangerous beast. Unbeknownst to her, though, she and her tribe are themselves being hunted, and by a creature more deadly by far.

If you want an accurate representation of the state of masculinity circa 1987, look no further than John McTiernan’s Predator. A platoon of oiled-up musclemen with biceps like bollards and Freudian überguns descend on Central America like some kind of WWE field trip — a Royal Rumble in the jungle. It’s a big, fat testosterone milkshake of a movie that perfectly encapsulates the era. Prey, by contrast, takes the same basic set-up (warriors in the wilderness, hunted by an alien) but strips out the absurdity and neatly realigns the original with more modern sensibilities.

Six years after his directorial debut with the delightfully subversive 10 Cloverfield Lane, Dan Trachtenberg is back in the spin-off business, his belated follow-up neatly sidestepping the legacies of previous sequels by turning back the clock 300 years to America’s colonial past. Instead of Arnie at his Arniest, we have Amber Midthunder’s Naru, a defiantly competent Comanche fighter who flatly rejects her people’s notion of a woman’s role — a cause touchingly supported by her war chief brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers).

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A ferocious heroine, authentic period setting, and a bloody string of inventive action beats.

Electrifying every scene, Midthunder is a ball of elemental fury, imbuing Naru with shatterproof resolve and ruthless pragmatism — a meeting between barbed saw-blade and French colonialist’s leg is chillingly matter-of-fact — yet Patrick Aison’s economical script never robs her of empathy, nor suggests a need to adopt masculine traits in order to outwit and out-fight any man who gets in her way. Naru may lack the no-neck brawn of Dutch’s crew, but she’s wiry and ferret-quick, efficiently dispatching quarry both four-legged and two with bow, blade and tomahawk-on-a-rope (genius) in a symphony of choreographed mayhem that wouldn’t look out of place in John Wick: Chapter 4. Consistently underestimated, she’s even marginalised by the Predator, who refuses to acknowledge the hunting party’s lone female, at one point literally unable to see her as it casts about for worthy prey. The gender commentary may not be subtle, but it is stark and to the point.

McTiernan’s original was a showpiece for slow-burn tension, tapping into the claustrophobic terror of an enemy unseen. Trachtenberg, though, is all too aware that the bulk of his audience has been here before. So Prey plays to the gallery, never coy about what’s waiting in the trees. This costs the film some of the original’s creeping dread, but the Predator’s full, uncloaked reveal (doused in ursine blood) shocks with a startling, sinister new look: this is one even uglier motherfucker.

With its ferocious heroine, authentic period setting, and a bloody string of inventive action beats (frantic flight through tall grass; pile-on in the ash-rain of a burned-out forest; heart-pounding confrontation with an ornery bear), Trachtenberg’s film breathes new life into a long-deflated series. At once pleasantly familiar and yet delightfully fresh, this is classic Predator artfully rejigged for 2022 — a shining example of how to take something old and make it new again.

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