With elements that wouldn’t be out of place in a latter-day Tarantino movie, Dan Trachtenberg presents a female-centred, postcolonial take on the Predator franchise
Boasting Arnie at the peak of his 1980s bloodletting powers, the original Predator was a tour de force of sinew-snapping action cinema. The premise was simple – a group of Vietnam vets on manoeuvres in the jungle go mano a mano with an alien that hunts humans for sport – and three sequels duly followed over the years, all middling to rubbish. That’s a trend this loftily titled fifth instalment aims to buck, and it’s a curious kind of franchise addition, as much a product of our identity-conscious moment as it is a throwback to the John McTiernan school of double-hard bastards getting offed in outlandish ways. It also happens to be quite a lot of fun.
Directed by 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Dan Trachtenberg, Prey pits its Predator against Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Comanche girl who dreams of becoming a warrior. To do so, she must overcome the prejudice of her peers, including her own family, and complete a tribal rite of passage by tracking down and killing an animal that is hunting her. Of course, she doesn’t know that animal is going to be an eight-foot crab-man with inexplicable Rasta dreads at this point, but such is life. Midway through, a bunch of French colonists show up, because it’s an unwritten rule that Native Americans on screen only exist in relation to white European settlers, and a three-way battle between oppressor, oppressed and marauding alien lifeforce gets underway.
With a logline like that, it’s easy to see why Disney came running: the company has found itself mired in accusations of cultural insensitivity in recent years, so what better way to address them than with a female-centred, postcolonial take on an existing IP? What’s more, in its tale of a young woman who defies tradition in pursuit of her dreams, it’s even a bit like Brave! (And Moana, and Coco) Happily, Trachtenberg dials down the ‘boss-bitch’ vibes in his depiction of Naru, embodied with real presence and intensity by Midthunder. He also takes care of business on the meat-and-potatoes end of the story, delivering a solidly imagined thriller that’s tense in all the right places and liberally splashed with R-rated gore.
There’s also an element of historical-revenge fantasy here that wouldn’t be out of place in a latter-day Tarantino, as the settlers start to get what’s coming to them. Perhaps that’s why the film wants to convince us the Predator is a stand-up guy, contrasting his apparent lack of concern for hunting non-meat-eating animals with the settlers’ wasteful skinning of a herd of buffalo – an ‘Ooh, who’s the real bad guy?’ moment which conveniently overlooks the fact that the Predator is more like an intergalactic Donald Trump Jr, flying round space in search of his quarry and taking their head as trophies. Still, it’s fun to cheer him on while he sets about offing the colonists – consider this one franchise likely to stick around for a while yet.