Predator was one of those once-in-a-generation movies that gets everything right. What should have been another mindless Schwarzenegger popcorn flick in the ’80s’ endless canon of mindless Schwarzenegger popcorn flick ended up being a masterpiece that ticked all the action and horror boxes at once. It’s got instantly quotable one-liners, expertly paced suspense, a memorable score and an iconic villain.
Naturally, over the decades since, directors have lined up to try and replicate the brilliance (and box office) of the 1987 classic. All have failed, ranging from the OK-if-uninspiring Predators to the crime against humanity that is Shane Black’s The Predator. Now, it’s Dan Trachtenberg’s turn to assume the chair and, with a CV that includes 10 Cloverfield Lane and episodes of Black Mirror, he should be the ideal pick for resurrecting the tension of the original.
A prequel set against the backdrop of 18th-century America, Prey depicts the Predator’s first hunt on Earth. The creature’s pitted against Comanche huntress Naru, desperate to prove herself to her tribe as a worthy killer. The result is a mutual hunt with each primitive party scrapping for the honour of being the ultimate killing machine.
Even from that brief synopsis, the cracks in the foundation begin to show. Prey’s plot largely follows the same beats as the original, depicting an invisible and high-tech murderer killing off woefully unprepared foes with guerrilla tactics. It’s a mystery narrative that requires the audience to be constantly on the edge of their seat as to the payoff. But we already know the payoff. We intimately know what the Predator looks like and how it operates, so to thrust it back in the shadows and pretend we don’t murders the suspense in its crib.
It’s a problem that could have been diminished if Prey had protagonists worth caring about, although that’s not the case. Naru is the only fully rounded character, with an arc of growing more and more competent as a hunter, surrounded by cardboard cutouts on a kill count waiting to happen. Within twenty minutes, you know who’ll live and who’ll die.
Where Predator was incessantly memorable, Prey has the opposite problem. There’s a filmmaking-by-numbers quality that extends to the music, shot compositions and editing, as well as the characters. The sole exception is a scene midway through the film, where we see the Predator fully take arms against a party of rifle-wielding colonialists. Find that bit on YouTube and save yourself an hour and a half.
Prey isn’t an offensively bad follow-up, yet there’s a repetition and lack of personality that pervades much of the runtime. It’s sequel-making done in its sleep, and maybe it needs to be the killing blow for a franchise that’s long limping.
Prey is out now on Disney+