When Schwarzenegger’s “Dutch” took on the alien warrior in John McTiernan’s 1987 film “Predator,” he was outgunned by the creature’s advanced weapons but when he utters the line “If it bleeds, we can kill it” it signified that despite the unlevel playing field the odds were suddenly even. This was going to be a battle of wits. When Amber Midthunder’s Naru hears the line spoken to her by brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) in Dan Trachtenberg’s prequel “Prey”, it’s far-reaching as the female Comanche warrior fights a second battle, respect, and equality from her male counterparts.

It’s 1719 in the Northern Great Plains where a young healer named Naru (Midthunder) yearns for liberation from the typical role of the Comanche woman. She doesn’t want to gather food and cook; she wants to become a great hunter and follow in the footsteps of her brother Taabe (Beavers). Naru has several skills that she’s honed on her own time. She’s proficient with a tomahawk and the tribe’s best tracker. Taabe sees her potential as a warrior and intercedes cautiously when his sister gets pushback from the men who often remark that she should be cooking them meals.

One day while out hunting Naru witnesses the fiery lights in the sky which she calls “the thunderbird”, it’s the Predator’s spaceship, as the alien warrior descends to Earth looking for worthy opponents. It’s implied that the Predator has visited before as Naru exclaims “I’m ready for my Kuhtammia”, the Comanche word representing a rite of passage. Taabe questions if she’s ready, “You want to hunt something that’s hunting you?”

Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”), working with writer Patrick Aison, delivers a riveting instant sci-fi classic that would succeed on its own without the Predator element as an Indigenous coming-of-age story focused on Naru’s journey. The film is bathed in authenticity, from the usage of the Comanche language to the weapons, chants, and dress, thanks in part to producer Jhane Myers, who hails from the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma. There is a scene in the film where Naru whistles at night, something that is forbidden in Comanche culture. It’s during a pivotal moment in the story. Most viewers unfamiliar with Native customs won’t realize the significance of the act which is believed to summon spirits. Yet, it’s another example of the film’s commitment to staying true to the people it represents.

There are several parallels in “Prey” to the original 1987 film. Just enough to point out how Naru and Dutch share a kinship when dealing with the extraterrestrial antagonist, yet not enough to call this a rehash of McTiernan’s classic. Trachtenberg’s take is fresh and original, it also expands the Predator myth by giving us insight into the creature, revealing new aspects about its capabilities and more importantly its limitations.

Amber Midthunder is terrific in a breakthrough performance, especially for those who didn’t see her outstanding portrayal of a young wife in the relationship drama “The Wheel” which premiered at TIFF in 2021. The Indigenous cast is also first-rate especially first-time actor Dakota Beavers who reminds me of a young Lou Diamond Phillips. His presence in a scene steals the spotlight. Together with Midthunder, they make a dynamic team. The Predator is played by former NBA star Dane DiLiegro who once appeared as a walker in AMC’s “The Walking Dead” (he was the tall one!). At 6’9” he makes for a frightening monster while paying tribute to 7’2” actor Kevin Peter Hall who played the alien in the original film and its 1990 sequel.

How does the alien warrior stack up to the 1987 version? 35 years means better technology, but Trachtenberg resists the temptation to utilize CGI to make this an enhanced, if not supersized version of the Predator. Its weapons, cloaking capabilities, and heat signature technology remain close to Schwarzenegger’s foe, but some elements of its defenses are primitive showing how it evolved over the 300-year timeline.

Also noteworthy is Sarah Schachner’s thrilling score which features traces of Alan Silvestri’s orchestral soundtrack that rocked the 1987 release. Schachner’s musical accompaniment to the film accentuates the prequel going from earthy and ethereal to dark and daunting. On the track “Communion” she teams up with Native flute player and maker Robert Mirabal for a truly haunting collaboration.

“Prey” deserved a theatrical release but for now you’ll have to stream it on Hulu. The “Predator” prequel is the “Aliens” of the franchise as sci-fi fans have long debated James Cameron’s 1986 sequel as better than 1979’s “Alien” directed by Ridley Scott. Each has its own merits, yet they are two different monsters, and the debate seems to be evenly split. As far as “Prey” vs “Predator” let me give Trachtenberg’s prequel a few more views before drawing a conclusion. As Dutch would say, “This is getting better by the minute.”

(3 ½ stars)

Now streaming on Hulu

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.