For those who remember the original “Predator,” the alien hunter’s code of conduct – only using the weapons and force required to make things sporting – helps mightily when trying to fight it. Even so, “Prey” represents an odd if refreshingly spare addition to the franchise, giving a coming-of-age spin to a faceoff that can’t help but feel like a serious mismatch.
Landing directly on Hulu (a choice that seemingly speaks to the film’s perceived theatrical prospects), this latest entry in a series that hasn’t been particularly memorable since the first movie proves small-boned by the genre’s standards, dropping the hulking killer in Comanche territory 300 years ago, where its trophies initially include plenty of the local fauna.
The thrills don’t look cheap, exactly, but the whole thing feels a bit cheaper, as if this were the pilot for an anthology series titled “Tales of the Predator,” charting periodic visits through history.
“A long time ago, it is said, a monster came here,” the movie says at the start, before introducing Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young female warrior who wishes to be taken seriously as a hunter because, she says, “you all think that I can’t.”
Naru soon gets the test of several lifetimes, recognizing that the alien (played by Dane DiLiegro, a 6’9” former basketball player) isn’t an animal but something different, while also learning its strengths, weaknesses and the peculiar game that it plays in terms of who and what it chooses to kill.
When it comes to battling Predators, brains tend to trump brawn. Nevertheless, using spears and (thanks to French traders) the occasional musket in this struggle seems like an even more gargantuan task than the mano-a-alien fight that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch orchestrated 35 years ago, and he had the advantage of explosives and being able to hoist tree trunks.
There’s a history of setting science-fiction stories in the past – the 2011 movie “Cowboys & Aliens” comes to mind – and grounding this story around Native-American people offers a window into that culture. Still, those elements are by necessity treated in once-over-lightly fashion given the grisly business at hand.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”), the novelty of “Prey’s” backdrop thus wears off pretty quickly, and even at a briskly paced 90-some-odd minutes, the movie fosters a sense of impatience about what Naru can devise to level the playing field. Until that climactic showdown, the best thing going for it is Midthunder, whose recent roles include “The Ice Road” and the CW’s “Roswell, New Mexico,” making the most of this physically demanding starring vehicle.
“Prey” works best in the context of an old-fashioned B horror movie, dropping a monster in a (very) remote locale, where almost no one can hear you scream.
Thematically, it’s an interesting addition to a franchise that returns every few years whether needed or not. When compared to recent predecessors this straight-to-streaming specimen isn’t bad, but it only feels worth adding to the “watch” list for those truly committed to collecting them all.
“Prey” premieres Aug. 5 on Hulu. It’s rated R.