Monday, August 8, 2022

Aliens Watch: Prey (2022)

Watched:  08/07/2022
Format:  Hulu
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Dan Trachtenberg

I had not heard one word about Prey (2022) before my social media lit up when it dropped on Friday (two days ago).  Frankly, I ignored the chatter for half a day when I saw mention it was a Predator movie, which is not in the year 2022 that is something that gets me terribly excited.  I love Predator, but everything after in the franchise sort of exists on a sliding scale, and attempts to merge it with Aliens somehow devalued both.  

Suffice to say, I have not seen every Alien, Predator or Aliens and Predator movie over the past 35 years.  

Thus, I was inclined to ignore the movie til I heard the basic set-up and that some trusted sources generally liked it.  Some quite a bit.  

I finally watched the film this morning, and... yeah.  This is the best Predator related thing I've seen since watching Bill Duke dry-shave in a jungle.  They kept the scale manageable, they remembered we know the Predator set-up, and that the thing to do now is to make the movie have personal stakes for the lead.  They will be changed in some way by the experience, and not just because they experienced pants-eradicating terror facing an alien invasion.

The film stars Amber Midthunder as a young Comanche woman in the year 1719 who longs to be a warrior like her brother, and is bucking against the expectations of her as part of the gathering part of the equation, as well as other domestic duties.  She witnesses what is the arrival of the Predator drop-ship, and tries to tell others what she's seen, but the focus is on a mountain lion which poses a threat.  

After a failed attempt to help capture the lion, she goes off in search of the new threat, and then things do not go particularly well in classic Predator fashion.

The story is simple - it's almost Disney-Princess-esque so you can guess the beats.  But, you know, a Princess coming to self-realization as a relentless killing machine mows its way through a bunch of unfortunate souls who cross its path.  And that's okay!  That's GREAT, in fact.  Not everything needs to be world building, and if you're going to exploit a franchise, you might as well make a gorgeously shot movie with a cast of attractive people with a ton of what I assume is pretty accurate period detail and unflagging respect for the Comanche, who are usually treated more like Aliens in movies.  

I dug that the movie suggests the Predator that arrives is no at all sure what to expect, and is working his way up the predator/ prey pyramid as he sorts things out - it's at least novel after a handful of these movies.  

Speaking of - yeah, you aren't going to win a prize for pointing out the commentary.  They don't exactly turn on a neon sign with it the way movies usually like to spell this stuff out now, but it ain't exactly subtle.  It IS an interesting mix of classic fur-trapper French colonizers and the Big Game Hunter exploiter of "exotic" territory and the stacked deck with which they enter. (Speaking of, I always liked the suggestion that the Predators are basically lying to themselves about what they're doing, much in the way I side-eye people sitting in deer blinds by feeders.  Now, you want to fight a deer with a Bowie knife, we can have a conversation.).  And I appreciate the take of the Comanche as the default in the film, which creates a curious othering of The French when they show up late in the film.  But what the film says about the invasiveness of both, and the inherent, mindless violence fueling their arrival is a solid point.

And we can't not talk about the stellar performance of Amber Midthunder, who *should* be able to use her performance here as proof positive (a) she can do whatever you throw at her and (b) people seem to like watching her.  A mix of acting alongside other people, with FX and definitely carrying the film for stretches entirely on just her (and she's in probably 90% of the scenes in the film) - she's utterly buyable as our plucky heroine doing things on her own and her own way with literally the world against her, allowing for both vulnerability and the steely resolve of someone taking on the impossible when no one believes in her.

That's not to dismiss the rest of the cast, which has some terrific actors I don't think I know.  I do hope to see Dakota Beavers again - as Midthunder's brother, he has his own arc that he carries very well, and Michelle Thrush, a veteran performer.  And, I'd be remiss to not mention the dog, who is adorable and about as useful as most of us know our dogs to be.

Special mention of the score - I see a credit of Sarah Schachner, who has previously mostly scored video games, but who brings a vibe here that I suspect will be getting her a lot more screen music work.  This is a lovely score fitting the grandeur of the big sky settings and scope of the world created, and perfectly suits the movie.

I dunno.  Look, it's basically exactly what you would think from the premise, but sometimes it's about the execution of the idea - and this is an artfully made, thoughtful action flick.  I'm not sure it will change the world of cinema - except in that it's a reminder that we can adapt the things we like to be something new and give it an entirely new POV if we don't rely on remaking the first thing over and over.  Add some personal stakes and a hero folks can believe in, and you've got a pretty great movie.  

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