I love streaming services, man.
For all the talk of about Disney is “ruining movies” or whatever, the actual truth is that movies are more diverse and risk-taking than ever. Sure, not EVERY movie goes to theater. Sure, what does go to theaters is a lot of safe, assumed sure-fire successes. But there are still more movies being made now than ever. It’s just that a fair chunk of them are released right onto streaming services.
And that’s not a bad thing. I think people assume that movies releasing right onto streaming are the Direct-To-Video of the 2020’s, but I don’t see it that way. The way we watch movies has changed. I mean, in the world as a whole, but ESPECIALLY in the way of the COVID-19 global pandemic. There is no stigma to movies releasing primarily on streaming. That’s how we watch movies now.
For instance, it’s how we watch Prey, the 2022 entry into the classic Predator franchise.
Prey was released directly onto Hulu with no theatrical debut as far as I am aware. And I have no idea why they would do that, because Prey was a fantastic flick that would have been glorious to behold on the big screen.
I usually delineate spoilers with some images from the movie, but let’s be real: this is a Predator movie, not friggin’ Knives Out. What do you THINK the story is about? It’s about an alien monster hunting people! What could I really spoil here? The reward is in seeing the execution of the movie, not in any big reveal or surprise.
Anyway, Prey takes place in Native American inhabited North America in the early 1700’s (so that era does give away that the area might not be SOLELY inhabited by Native Americans…). A woman named Naru is eager to prove her worth to her Comanche tribe and go through a ritual to prove she is a warrior, just as her older brother before her, Taabe, had done.
She seems competent with weapons, and she certainly has the determination, but when the chips are down early on, it’s easy to see that while she may be great at tracking and coming up with remedies, she is not ready to be a hunter. She is the only one who sees the clues that there is more out in the wild that a mountain lion or a bear, however, and that’s why the action follows her.
It’s honestly one threat after another for Naru. She is attacked by nature (she has encounters with both a lion and a grizzly that she only survives because of some timely intervention), her own tribemates, who think she is more trouble than she’s worth, some French settlers, and–oh yeah–a friggin’ Predator. The movie spares no effort in putting Naru in danger and allowing us to see her development from a headstrong wannabe who can’t back up what she purports to be, to a clever and learned warrior who uses everything she has been through in her final confrontation with an alien hunter.
The movie fits a lot–A LOT–into its 99 minute run time. It’s usually an insult to say that a movie feels longer than it is, but I mean that in the very best way here: Prey feels like a solid two hour flick packed into its meager run time. There’s just so much going on, and it’s paced so brilliantly that you barely ever get a chance to catch your breath. The movie is almost a master class in maximizing your runtime and scheduling your most dramatic moments.
It’s got to be hard to carry a movie, to be in almost every single minute of a flick’s runtime. But Amber Midthunder is a revelation here as the star of the show. The movie sets you up to dislike her–it openly talks about how good she is at various things and is just begging you to use the words “Mary” and “Sue” in relation to her–before turning all of that on its head. Naru is a wildly flawed character. She is brash and foolhardy, and the first time she is given a chance to back up her big talk about how she can hunt as well as anyone else, she is easily bested by a lion and left at its mercy. Her brother has to save her and carry her back to camp.
Undeterred, Naru sets back out, and like I said… she meets failure after failure and usually only survives because someone or something–her brother, her tribe, her dog, a fallen tree, a bear trap, the Predator itself–is there to save her. Naru is talented, but she has to learn the skills she needs to survive over the course of the film. She is the protagonist simply because she sees something that the others don’t; not because she is the best at everything. Oh, and also because she has the character arc. You know… narrative fiction and all.
As is befitting of a Predator flick, the action is viciously intense, and some of the deaths are delightfully violent. Naru’s character growth and Midthunder’s acting are the gems, sure, but this movie knows what you are here for, and it delivers. One action sequence in particular–an extended single take, and those ALWAYS GET ME, where Naru fights off her French captors–is the high point.
So what DIDN’T work for me? Surprisingly little. I mean, the movie isn’t AMAZING or anything. It’s a 99 minute action flick that does what it wants to do brilliantly, but doesn’t do much else. Oh, and they threw in a “If it bleeds, we can kill it” that felt a bit gratuitous, but maybe that’s just me? I always get a little bothered when these franchise films feel like they are giving you a Greatest Hits moment. Just let Prey be great! You don’t need to remind me of what came before.
The movie is, as I mentioned earlier, paced and executed incredibly well, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t take me 15-20 minutes to really get all the way into it. That’s no fault of the movie’s, which starts early and strong, but maybe the fact that I had to learn Naru’s story on the fly made it hard to care about her right off the bat.
Additionally, and somewhat related to that, this movie should have had a theatrical release. Watching it in my home, with my phone in my hand, with my cats being obnoxious, and with the August sun coming in through my window all detracted from it a bit, and probably played a role in how long it took me to get invested. I wish this had come out in the cinema so I could have been more fully engrossed. But if the options were “Hulu” or “not at all”, I’m just glad I got it.
But man, those thoughts are so ticky-tacky and minimal. Prey is a success at every level for what it is. Brutal, fun, and a wonderful showcase for Ms. Midthunder.
It’s highly effective and has some really stellar character development for a Predator movie.
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