There does seem to be an inherent problem with any film series that starts out clean and simple, then decides to get into its own lore. This isn’t to say lore, on its own, is bad. Lord of the Rings is pretty much all lore. It sells itself on lore. But it’s when movies that are clean and simple start diving into its own origins, which take us further and further away from what made the first movie successful. Alien is a perfect horror movie. I never really needed to know how the Xenomorph was genetically engineered by an android. Even the first Star Wars is, in retrospect, a surprisingly simple movie that never really stops to explain much of anything. And now we get a lot of explanation drawn out over many weeks.
Rewatching the first Predator, directed by John McTiernan, it’s kind of funny we even get that opening shot of the Predator in space coming to visit Earth. That’s about all the explanation we ever get about this guy: he is not of the world. And there it is, coming to Earth for a hunt, probably with the same excitement as your Midwestern family member, who likes to wear camouflage in his spare time, headed out to the woods for a weekend. From that moment on, it’s just about the gruesome Predator and the people it is hunting, which eventually ends with Dutch, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, barely escaping after the Predator blows itself up with a self-destruct feature.
At the end of Predator 2 (which is almost a good movie), after Danny Glover’s Mike Harrigan defeats the Predator on the Predator’s own spaceship (not the same Predator from the first film), he’s surrounded by numerous other Predators. One of the Predators, with no explanation, hands Mike a pistol from 1715 and walks off. On this ship, we can also see a Xenomorph skull from Alien. Now, the more interesting part of all of this was the pistol. The Xenomorph was kind of put in there as just a joke by the special effects team that also worked on Aliens. But the future of Predator would now be tied to fighting Xenomorphs and diving into its own, not very interesting, lore. While the pistol aspect was just ignored … until now.
Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey (which premieres on Hulu this Friday and won’t be in theaters basically for contractual reasons) takes the concept of the pistol, takes us back to 1719, and makes a down and dirty Predator movie that rivals the first movie as a simple film about a Predator on a hunt. At one point we see the Predator fight a bear. The bear holds its own, for awhile.
The story focuses on Naru (Amber Midthunder) a Comanche warrior – who, for what she lacks in strength, she makes up for with her cunning hunting tactics – is unrelentingly picked on by other members of her tribe for wanting to be a warrior when they think she should stay back with the rest of the tribe while the men hunt. We are also introduced to a group of fur traders (yes, this is where the pistol comes in) who do not get along with the Comanche and vice versa. The Predator, for his part, doesn’t seem to care too much about the social implications of either group and view all of them the same way: his prey.
It’s not really too much of a surprise that this movie will come down to a battle between Naru and the Predator. What is surprising is the techniques Naru uses. I mean, look, if Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t beat the Predator with strength alone, Naru will also have to come up with another idea. And the weaknesses we’ve learned about the Predator from the past films all come into play here as Naru starts to analyze her enemy and figure out how to defeat it.
Another surprise here is how gory Prey turns out to be. There’s a reason this is going to Hulu and not Disney+. Yeah, sure, I was a little worried Disney would want the violence dialed down a notch or two. But this is a very violent movie. If Disney did hope the gore would be dialed back, the Predator did not listen. But to be fair, that’s kind of the Predator’s thing, to ignore requests like, “mind dialing it back a bit?”
Let’s hope Prey starts a new wave of really great, back-to-basics Predator movies. I do hope they wind up back in theaters. I got to see this in a theater and it played really well. And I do hope they remain small in scope and story like the original Predator and Prey (and, fine, some of Predator 2). I don’t want to know anything more about the Predator. I know enough. I know, in its free time, it wants to kill people. Great. Set it loose and start the fun.
‘Prey’ will stream via Hulu on August 5th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.