I once devoted my column in Empire to films called Prey or The Prey – which were all out that month! – and another one turned up within a few weeks … so, for all its simplicity and derivation from the original title, perhaps this latest (and, oddly, most successful) reboot of the perpetually struggling/never quite dead Predator franchise should have gone with something else. Actually, Predator wasn’t that apt a name for the first film – the alien who stalks Arnie and other 80s hardblokes in the jungle is a trophy hunter, not killing to survive. Here, there’s an interesting three-way contrast … between the Comanche, who hunt to feed themselves but also as part of manhood (or warriorhood) rituals … hairy French trappers, who hunt buffalo for skins (and money) but leave the meat to rot … and the alien stalker, who has turned in up in America in 1718 on his race’s usual business of testing themselves by tracking, killing and making trophies of the most dangerous species around.
The whole franchise has always had a sneaking admiration for the invisible bastards, but actually the predators are the scum of the universe – technologically advanced uber-bullies who get off on using gadgets to murder sentient beings. I’d like to think that they’re a tiny minority of their species and back on their home planet pictures of them posing with the ripped-out spines and skulls of Jesse Ventura or Carl Weathers provoke the same reaction as a viral image of some fat git squatting next to a blasted endangered lion or rhino on Earth. It’s also not often remembered that John McTiernan’s muscular original film was kind of fun, but not exactly demanding – basically, it’s a body count monster movie, and subsequent films in the series have only hinted at more going on. Dan Trachtenberg, whose last franchise-fillip was 10 Cloverfield Lane, and writer Patrick Aison, deliver the often-promised period Predator pic, tying up a loose end (a flintlock pistol) from Predator 2 but quite daringly not going over what we already know – it’s up to us to understand what characters can only dimly grasp, and even to think a bit about the precise plight of the Comanche.
Naru (Amber Midthunder, from Legion) is a wannabe tough chick not exactly respected by the warriors of her tribe, though her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) has noticed she makes up in cleverness and invention what she lacks in strength. Her people are already troubled by dangerous presences – a lion has attacked a warrior and there’s a bear in these parts too – and the incursion of a technically-advanced people … metal spring-traps are set in their hunting grounds, and French-speaking trappers with flintlocks are as monstrous to the tribe as the invisible being from the stars (Dane DiLiegro) who’s slaughtering his (its?) way up the food chain. The look of the alien is varied – to be credibly three-hundred-years cruder than the predators we’ve met in films set later, with a bone mask rather than metal – but its schtick is the usual. Naru is, by default and debut on a streaming service, a Disney princess – more Mulan or Merida than Pocahontas, a feminist pioneer in a stratified, sexist society … and also a proto-Ripley as she literally gets under the alien’s radar by not registering as the obvious threat we know her to be. Trachtenberg stages the wilderness survival and monster-fighting action well, with some woodland atmospherics – looming figures in the mist – and rough terrain to add to the unease between the bouts of desperate grappling. A lot of green glowing blood gets splashed.
Kudos to the creatives for prepping a version dubbed in Comanche, though a demerit for lazily using closed captioning that also describes sound effects – ‘(tribesepeople ululating)’ – rather than simply translating the (sparse) dialogue.