There’s a reason that the title of the new Predator film doesn’t contain the word “Predator.”

It’s not because there isn’t a fearsome alien on hand who hunts down humans and other species for the sheer enjoyment of it. Rather, it’s that this fifth entry in the long-running franchise (not counting the Alien vs. Predator entries, discuss) differs rather dramatically from its predecessors. For one thing, it has a heroine instead of a hero, who happens to be a young Indigenous woman. For another, the story takes place some 300 years ago in the Great Plains, so the most formidable high-tech human weaponry on display are the muskets wielded by French fur trappers. Despite all this, Prey, premiering domestically on Hulu, winds up being one of the more formidable installments in the series.

The Bottom Line

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A familiar franchise ventures onto unfamiliar terrain.

Release Date: Friday, August 5

Cast: Amber Midthunders, Dakota Beavers, Dane Diliegro, Stormee Kipp, Michelle Thrush, Julian Black Antelope, Stefany Mathia, Bennett Taylor, Mike Paterson, Nelson Leis

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Screenwriter: Patrick Aison

Rated R,
1 hour 39 minutes

The film will no doubt be lambasted by its less forward-thinking male viewers, much in the same way that they somehow couldn’t stand the thought of female ghostbusters. But there’s no denying that director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) has effectively gotten back to the basics. There’s enough carnage and violent action on display to satisfy Predator fans whose cinematic bloodlust knows no bounds, and the dramatic change in milieu provides some much-needed freshness. Featuring a cast composed almost entirely of Native and First Nations actors, Prey has clearly taken pains to be as authentic as possible.

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Amber Midthunder, who previously proved her badass bona fides in the Liam Neeson vehicle The Ice Road, proves perfectly cast as the incredibly resourceful and skillful Naru, who throws a mean tomahawk and desperately yearns to be a hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers, making an impressive debut) and the other men in her Comanche tribe. She more than gets her chance after the arrival of the Predator (Dane Diliegro, all 6’9” of him), who, being an equal opportunity killer, begins gruesomely dispatching whatever animals and humans have the unfortunate luck to cross his path.

That’s about it in terms of the plot (what, you were expecting a love story?), but Predator movies have thrived on even less. Naru, with the aid of her trusty and incredibly emotionally expressive dog, finally gets the chance to prove her warrior skills to her doubting tribe, or at least those members who are still alive. Along the way, she endures dangerous encounters with a variety of wild animals, including a mountain lion and bear, not to mention nearly being buried in quicksand. It’s no spoiler to reveal that she ultimately gets the best of the Predator, but not to worry. As the previous four movies have proved, there’s plenty more where he came from.

Screenwriter Patrick Aison can be forgiven for laying on the feminist themes a bit thickly, since for every earnest or overly self-aware moment there’s one or more scenes of the Predator slaying his victims with undeniable panache. The important thing is that the action sequences are staged with maximum skillfulness (occasionally undercut by the subpar CGI effects, including the Predator glowing like a clubber who’s wandered into ultraviolet light). Some of the visuals are truly striking, such as an invisible Predator being exposed by the blood and viscera raining down on him from the bear he’s just killed. Adding to the impact are DP Jeff Cutter’s striking visual compositions, including a gorgeous shot of Naru and the mountain lion perched precariously on a tree limb, and Sarah Schachner’s pulse-pounding musical score.

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