Even before getting the words ''prequel to four other films in a franchise'' out you've probably started to look for an exit, but maybe this is the rare time to take a second and just sit down to watch the movie. Taking us back in time to 18th century before events seen in other 'Predator' movies, Prey comes from director Dan Trachtenberg and writer Patrick Aison, putting horror tinges on top of the sci-fi action blend. When we meet our main character Naru (Amber Midthunder), she's established as a brave warrior from Comanche tribe with somewhat unrefined skills. Her and brother Taabe's (Dakota Beavers) hunting and survival skills face a significant test after they come across an alien (Dane DiLiegro) equipped with advanced technology, setting up a situation where they battle who's the prey and who's the predator.
Impressiveness of Trachtenberg's direction becomes apparent rather quickly as the main characters, threat and tone are established with ease through a combination of Jeff Cutter's slow-moving cinematography, focused sound design, Sarah Schachner's industrial beats and introducing the locations as we follow Naru. Pretty much everything we learn about Naru in that first 20 minutes or so, comes back to be useful later and especially in the final showdown, which is always a great piece of writing that a good director can then make visually exciting as well. Nothing in that vein disappoints either as visual effects are used effectively (sorry about that) in otherwise natural environments, whether it's bigger things like wild animals or just small things to fit the time period, and there's plenty of solid work done with costumes, makeup and production design as well.
While it's highly crucial that your lead actor like Midthunder can carry the weight of action in these types of films—and she certainly can, especially when Trachtenberg makes great use of tension in small spaces just like in his previous film '10 Cloverfield Lane'—it's even better that she is also able to shine in dramatic acting in the first act, which then makes you care about her character's journey. While Midthunder and equally charismatic Beavers do everything that is required of them, there's more trembling going on with few supporting performances in the film, like actors playing other people from the tribe or French settlers. Luckily those are only small obstacles in a film which accomplishes most things that it sets out to from well-designed action to some gruesome horror, and from great filmmaking (as much as you can see when Disney's watermarks block quarter of the 2.39:1 frame) to simple story with smart characters.
Smileys: Atmosphere, Amber Midthunder, screenplay, VFX
Frowneys: Some issues with supporting performances
Naruto ran so Naru wouldn't.
[Editor's note: Version seen was in the English language (with occasional lines in Comanche) as the preferred version fully in Comanche wasn't made available.]