Is there anything better than being proven so wonderfully wrong? The glut of vaporous franchise movies of late that seemed to serve no purpose, beyond merely keeping the copyright coining in, has been a slog. It has gotten to the point that seeing a familiar title on a film now results in puffed out cheeks and sighing rather than whoops of excitement. Prey, deliciously, hunts down that sentiment and slams an axe into its chest.
Whilst it won’t take much research to identify in which universe Prey resides, it is a genuine delight that the movie doesn’t trade heavily off of this.
Indeed, you could exorcise the familiar element entirely and still be left with a great film which is precisely how it should be but yet so frequently isn’t.
What Is Prey About?
Set during the early 18th century in the Northern Great Plains of America, Prey follows Naru (Amber Midthunder) a young Comanche woman striving to become a warrior.
Highly skilled with her tomahawk but dismissed due to her age and gender, and overshadowed by her talented and popular brother, Naru spies what she believes to be the legendary Thunderbird whilst out hunting.
Crucially, Prey takes its time. There is no rush for showy moments. Naru’s journey to pull away from the constraints placed upon her drives the narrative to begin with.
She must successfully kill a difficult prey in order to be accepted as a hunter.
An opportunity to track down a cougar that has been attacking the tribe seems ideal, except only she seems able to identify signs that there is something even more deadly in the forest.
Midthunder is outstanding throughout. Her steely determination but uncertain flicker in the eyes prevent her from falling into the character traps of superhuman or miraculous skill uplift.
She’s adept at the tomahawk and can hold her own in a fight, but her lack of experience counts against her and frequently puts her in danger. For every hard earned lesson, Midthunder drives the story with agency and star power.
Is Prey Worth Watching?
Director Dan Trachtenberg (who directed the tense and sublime 10 Cloverfield Lane) picks and chooses his shots with great care.
Glimpses of the threat are sly and the lush setting allows for all manner of lighting and framing; be it the dappled dying light raising the stakes or Naru’s entrapment in tree roots barely keeping her safe from a rampaging bear.
Midthunder is supported well by Dakota Beavers as her brother, Taabe. Taabe’s pride at his own achievements and concern for his sister is tempered with genuine admiration for her skills, even if he can’t shake off the tribe’s patriarchal attitudes enough to stand up for her.
The Comanche setting isn’t dropped in haphazardly: it informs all the characters and motivations.
Prey Official Trailer
As the full nature of the threat is revealed (which is likely to be quite apparent early on, despite how coy the camera is) the action dials up the blood, slicing, hacking, and death quotas.
Supplying the bodies is a cadre of French traders who are interrupted in the process of stripping the land of all its valuables, including the people.
We never get to know them beyond arrogance and greed, so as limbs go flying the fun is in the visceral violence alone.
Prey is a masterclass in coming to an idea fresh with an independent story to tell.
It ticks all the boxes of the raw elements and then prises off the lid of a bunch more to elevate the movie still further.
Those who choose to stalk it through the streaming services may find that it turns the tables and ensnares them within its undergrowth.
Words by Mike Record