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Amber Midthunder and adversary

“PREY” My rating: B (Hulu)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

We’re way past expecting anything of interest to come out of the long-running “Predator” series,  yet Hulu’s  “Prey” consistently takes us by surprise while remaining faithful to the franchise’s mythology.

The gimmick at the heart of writer/director Dan Trachtenberg’s film:  “Prey” is set in the early 1700s in the American West.  Our human protagonists are members of the Comanche tribe; their alien adversary is pretty much the same laser-equipped killing machine we’re familiar with from all those other films.

Trachetnberg and co-writer Patrick Sidon go out of their way to faithfully depict the lifestyle of this continent’s original inhabitants…so much so that you could eliminate the sci-fi/horror elements and still have a pretty solid ethnological study of Native American existence.

Our lead character is Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young woman who defies tribal tradition by insisting on leading the life of a hunter…a role restricted to men.

She’s proficient with bow and arrow and tomahawk (even dreaming up a leather lanyard for the latter that allows her to retrieve a thrown weapon with a jerk of her arm). She has trained a dog — a creature viewed by her clan as an alarm system and possibly dinner — to be her hunting companion; they communicate through hand signals.

Naru’s widowed mother (Michelle Thrush) tolerates and even secretly encourages her daughter’s rebellious streak.  Her big brother Tabu (Dakota Beavers), one of the tribe’s best warriors, does his best to shield her from the jeers of the other young men (not that Naru really needs much help in defending herself from  male chauvinism).

And then, of course, a spaceship drops a predator into paradise.

The film builds slowly as tribal members discover clues that something new and scary is wandering through their post-card perfect landscape.  Three quarters of the way through there’s a battle between the Predator and a crew of French-Canadian fur trappers; turns out single-shot flintlock rifles are no match for alien technology.

“Prey” does a pretty good job of introducing modern (some would say “woke”) elements into the mix without clubbing us over the head with them.  Naru’s nascent feminism is implied rather than articulated.  

The presence of white men is introduced when Naru stumbles across a meadow filled with bison  carcasses, stripped of their hides and left to rot. (Never mind that the actual slaughter of the buffalo didn’t occur until after the Civil War, a 150 years later. The mountain men of this period would have been after beaver pelts.)

Moreover, while the natives live honorably by a shared code, the Frenchmen are presented as thugs and rapists…which is probably not too far from the truth.

Basically it all boils down to Naru using her ingenuity to outsmart her sophisticated enemy; as Arnold Schwarzenegger learned in the original “Predator,” sometimes the simplest solutions wisely applied will trump alien wiles.

The performances are unforced and natural; both Midthunder and Beavers exude screen charisma without making a big deal of it.

Technically the film is quite beautiful, evoking the sort of pristine wilderness captured so hauntingly in “The Revenant.” Costuming and props appear to be utterly authentic.

“Prey” was shot with English dialogue (except for the Frenchies). But for a fully immersive experience I’d go with Hulu”s “Comanche dub” option, which allows the aboriginal characters to speak in their tribal language.  Their words are translated into English subtitles, but “Prey” is such an effective piece of visual storytelling that you could watch it without subtitles and still perfectly understand what’s going on.

| Robert W. Butler

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