Prey Reimagines the Predator Franchise

As a movie villain, the Predator has pretty basic motivations. He’s an alien who comes to Earth to hunt for fun with some cool gadgets. He can make himself invisible, but can’t see his targets, he can only detect their body heat. In the years since 1987’s Predator came out, filmmakers have attempted to create a backstory for him and expand his world. But, honestly, trying to quote-unquote explain the Predator never fails to be sort of lame, and that’s what director Dan Trachtenberg’s new reboot, Prey, gets right.

Prey, which is debuting solely on Hulu, keeps things simple: Girl and dog vs. Predator. The clever twist is that this takes place not in the present day, but in 1719 on the Northern Great Plains. The young woman (played with fortitude by Amber Midthunder) is Comanche, and is trying to prove that she can hunt just as well as the men who surround her. It’s an archetypal narrative—almost Disney Princess-esque—thrown onto a Predator movie with all the green goo and ridiculous kills that entails. And the result is pretty fun, if also a tonal mishmash of goofiness and gorgeous landscapes.

Here’s what to know about how the Predator’s greatest foe evolved from a bodybuilder in the middle of the jungle to an 18th century Comanche woman.

The origins of the franchise

The Predator first started prowling in the 1987 film directed by John McTiernan and starring, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bulky Austrian action star plays Dutch, a commando who is part of a team dispatched in an unidentified but coded as Central American jungle to handle a Communist insurgency that goes awry when, surprise, there’s an alien on the loose, skinning people alive and murdering for fun. (For what it’s worth, the film was shot in Mexico.) It’s savvier and wilier than you might remember, as much a secret takedown of macho posturing as it is a celebration of it—and critics have been kinder to the film as time’s worn on. Yes, Dutch is the biggest man among a bunch of big men, but he ultimately defeats his foe with smarts rather than ammo. Nearly $100 million in ticket sales later, a franchise was born.

In 1990, Predator 2 set a Predator upon Los Angeles, and introduced more of the creature’s mythology—including a detail that it possesses an 18th Century Flintlock pistol as a trophy. Trachtenberg explained in an interview with UPROXX that the vintage firearm was how Prey landed on its historical setting.

After a more than a decade of dormancy, the Predator and its brethren were resurrected to face off against the Xenomorphs from the Alien movies in the Alien vs. Predator spinoffs, and then rebooted twice with 2010’s Predators and 2018’s The Predator. The latter film—directed by Shane Black, who appeared in 1987’s Predator—was clearly designed to produce sequels that never actually came to fruition after controversy, bad reviews, and a mild box-office take.

Meanwhile, Trachtenberg had been working on Prey—written by Patrick Aison—since around 2016. The idea initially was to keep the fact that it even was a Predator movie a secret, as Trachtenberg had done before with 10 Cloverfield Lane, but the ruse was revealed in 2020.

A new setting for a familiar tale

Midthunder, a Native performer best known for her work in The CW television series Roswell, New Mexico, is Naru, who longs to be seen as a hunter even as she is tasked with making medicinal balms alongside her mother (Michelle Thrush). When one member of her tribe is attacked by what the rest of the men assume to be a mountain lion, Naru realizes that there’s something bigger and badder prowling the plains. No one—including her brother (Dakota Beavers)—believes her, so she heads out with her loyal pup Sarii (a Very Good Dog) to take down the Predator on her own, and achieve what is called Ku̵htaamia, a rite of passage where a hunter is celebrated for besting a large beast.

Along the way she meets resistance from doubters within her own community, and a group of evil French trappers that shout “merde” with such stereotypical exuberance they may as well be out of a Monty Python sketch. Their deaths at the hand of our alien friend are the most wonderfully over the top as they meet deserved and creatively bloody ends.

Occasionally, this silliness clashes with Trachtenberg and his cinematographer Jeff Cutter’s desire to create visually sumptuous images. The drone shots of Naru and Sarii pacing through open fields are eerily splendid, the emptiness of the space pierced by the small figures. Remove these frames from context and you might think you’re watching a very different movie—one where an extraterrestrial is not stomping around murdering for sport. There’s even something, dare I say, Malickian about the way Cutter and Trachtenberg capture the Nakoda land in Calgary where they staged the action.

Introducing cultural specificity to a monster franchise

The filmmakers, including Comanche and Blackfeet producer Jhane Myers, worked with Comanche consultant Juanita Pahdopony, and the result is a product that is maybe not entirely historically accurate—(there’s a Predator)—but also largely respectful. Along with the version of the film that was screened for press, which is largely in the English language with a few bits of Comanche sprinkled in throughout, Hulu will also make a full Comanche dub available. “This movie resets a whole lot of paradigms, and one of them is the language component,” Myers told in an interview.

At the same time, perhaps the most radical thing about Prey is that it is a Predator movie, an elemental one, but with an almost entirely indigenous cast. In various Predator sequels The Predator himself, here played by Dane DiLiegro, tends to overshadow the humans sparring against him, all of whom stand in the shadow of Schwarzenegger from McTiernan’s original. Naru, however, holds her own. She’s an anti-Arnold in the best way, the kind of heroine who knows she can be underestimated and uses that to her advantage. She also kicks ass and has an adorable dog. It’s a winning formula.

Prey Reimagines the Predator Franchise

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