Prey, the latest installment in the Predator franchise, might not be the Predator movie you expect. It is not a prequel and has very little to do with the other movies, but the spirit—along with the alien creature with the iconic haircut — remains intact.
The Hulu film goes back in time 300 years to the Predator's first trip to Earth, where it encounters a young female Comanche warrior named Naru (Amber Midthunder) who is determined to protect her tribe from the creature she knows is not a bear. Her male counterparts, of course, think it is a bear or a wolf or maybe a lion, so they're not exactly quick to heed Naru's warnings — she is a girl, after all. Naru goes after it anyway, and finds herself facing off against something unlike she's ever seen or imagined before.
For Midthunder, there are "endless" reasons she's thrilled to be starring in a movie like Prey. "I think everybody worked really hard on it, first of all, but [I feel excited about] getting to represent indigenous people in a period piece in a way that I don't think you've seen often, or maybe ever, [featuring] people that have real personalities and relationships," she tells Metacritic. "And an indigenous female action hero is a huge deal. I just feel like there's so many things about this movie to be excited about."
While Midthunder herself is a member of the Fort Peck Sioux tribe, the movie was co-produced by Jhane Myers, an enrolled member of the Comanche tribe in Oklahoma. Myers and director Dan Trachtenberg worked closely together to seamlessly blend a Predator movie with a movie that as accurately as possible represents a particular group of underrepresented people.
"The coolest thing for me was realizing the similarities with Comanche culture and my culture," Midthunder says. "Getting to see that every day and learn about everything from how they brush their teeth to big things like how they handled war or honor their dead was so cool."
Midthunder was also thrilled to be able to bring that representation to a period piece, especially one that isn't about a tribe's relationship with white people.
"It's so rare that we get representation at all, but when we do, it's either like one character who is supposed to represent everybody, or in a period piece, it's often this kind of boiled down, one-dimensional or sub-human version of, like, over-spiritualized people or savage, violent people. The truth is obviously neither," she explained. "Comanche people were always incredible warriors and skilled hunters, and intelligent and inventive and innovative and creative. So, to get to show our people during this time period as people you can feel are grounded and believable to me is kind of one of the most amazing things about this."
Trachtenberg tells Metacritic that he has always been "obsessed" with making a period science fiction film, and equally obsessed with making a movie where the story was told almost entirely through action, with a ton of emotion. He got both with Prey.
"I took the engine of a sports movie and infused it so that there could be a real beautiful underdog at its core," he said. "And then I thought about, why not have the story behind the making of the movie reflect the story that's happening inside the movie, so what if the protagonists were characters that are normally relegated to being sidekicks or villains? So, all of that fused together to set this movie in the 1700s focused on the Comanche."
When Myers joined the production, with all her expertise on Comanche culture, her first question was, "Where are all the horses?"
"The Comanches were a nomadic plains culture, a horse culture," she explains. "I was like, how could you have this [movie] without any horses?"
She also brought her fine art skills to the costume, hair and makeup departments, to help with tailoring clothes and face paint to each character. "It made a big difference," she recalls. "You could see when the actors had their faces painted, how it really gave them that strength and a little more power."
Myers handed out folders to each of the actors, filled with photos of Comanche art, and taught some of the actors about the Comanche's unique use of fringe. She also helped make sure that the art and language were accurate to the period, though there's one major aspect to this movie that can't be considered period accurate: a big alien who can occasionally turn invisible and skin a snake in one move.
"It was incredibly exciting to develop a creature that felt undeniably Predator, yet also would be refreshing and new and exciting even for diehard fans of the franchise," Trachtenberg explains. "We gave him some old favorites, weaponry-wise, but also some new tools up its sleeve, or in its gauntlet, so to speak. [We were sure to] make sure that even the science fiction elements feel as grounded, and sometimes as elegant, as we possibly could to fit into the storytelling of that entire movie."
Any film with a Predator and a lot of horses is going to include some stunts, which allowed Midthunder and co-star Dakota Beavers, who plays fellow hunter and warrior Taabe, to live "a dream come true," according to Beavers. They attended a four-week boot camp that he compared to being a kid and playing in the woods with your friends.
"It's like, all of a sudden you realize that oh, maybe this is a skill, rolling around in the dirt and playing in a war with your buddies. You're just getting paid for it," he said.
Midthunder had the most fun with a scene in which she jumps out of a tree, which required a level of wire work that she wasn't expecting from a movie like this. She and Trachtenberg wanted her to do as many of her own stunts as possible, though she had two "amazing" stunt doubles standing by. "That was a really cool part of this film that was not super expected for me that I really enjoyed," she says.
In the end, the cultural aspects, the stunts, and the alien Predator of it all come together in a piece that feels revolutionary yet also, as Beavers says, familiar.
"I was so excited because it was obviously familiar in a sense, because it's the Predator franchise, but it's so different from anything we've seen before," he explains. "It was exciting and kind of took away some of the fear of filling the shoes of guys like Arnold [Schwarzenegger], because it's similar but it's also different enough that you can feel comfortable."
For Midthunder, the idea of the Predator encountering a Comanche warrior made complete sense.
"The whole thing with the Predator is that it's the top hunter and it wants to find the greatest opponent, so to go back and to choose Comanche warriors, I think, really honors what great warriors they truly were," she says.
Prey is streaming now