Prey (2022) on Hulu

My first experience watching anything about Predator was maybe one clip of this film on Youtube and then watching some random action sequences of Predator vs Alien. When watching the latter, I could never understand why both franchises were so revered as I saw annoying, stupid human characters mostly living and being ignored by highly advanced aliens killing each other and it made me wish the humans didn’t even exist in it, because they were obviously only surviving due to plot armor. The “remake” also seemed quite boring. But I read-up on forums that the Predator (1987) film was quite good. I was hesitant to try it after the horribly awful Time Crimes film, but then I learned about the film Prey (2022) on Hulu and I reeeally wanted to watch that because I had been interested in seeing if Hollywood could ever make a film with positive portrayals of Native American culture – in this particular case, the Comanche Nation. Hollywood has not exactly had a positive history with depictions of Native Americans. 20th Century Fox has had a rather terrible history of co-opting their own creative teams and force feeding conservative political talking points into their films (I am Legend 2007), having racially charged depictions of Black Americans (The Sitter 2011), or simply whitewashing or removing any critique of Christianity (Golden Compass film of 2007). Their inability to make good superhero films also made me skeptical. Yet, I saw reviews and people seemed to rate it favorably. There didn’t seem to be any backlash, the cultural designer was a Comanche woman, and the Comanche nation itself was asked for its opinion and screened exclusively before release by the director. I figured that I should watch the first film in order to understand any references to the original or to better understand the context of its relation to the original film, if Prey (2022) happened to be some sort of prequel. It ended-up being a very enjoyable experience and so I decided to watch Prey (2022) after realizing the films were probably only tangentially connected. After watching both, I’d say that both films are definitely better as self-contained stories.

The few quibbles that I have with the film are probably unavoidable given budgeting and learning constraints. Amber Midthunder is part of the Sioux Nation in real life and in an interview, she mentioned that she hoped that she did a good job presenting another Native American culture. The dialogue initially begins with Comanche Nation language, but swiftly changes to English between the various Native American actors and actresses in the film. I think we as the audience are meant to understand that they’re still speaking Comanche. It can be a bit immersion breaking and arguably could break suspension of disbelief, but . . . I don’t know what else the directors, film crew, and actors and actresses could even do given the language isn’t commonplace due to Western forced assimilation forms of cultural genocide from the 1870s onwards. The dress style may also be a bit modernized, since to my understanding, most Native American tribes didn’t really need to wear too much clothing in hotter weather because it was pointless. Not that the clothing isn’t authentic, but rather the historical context may have been in colder weather and the idea of nude adults or children running about in hot weather didn’t have any sexualized context. The sexualization of children within the Western cultural context for being nude came about from authors like Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, known famously as Lewis Carrol, who painted nude pictures of other people’s children as per British Victorian cultural standards or the photographing of nude African children by French photographers. So, wearing it at night makes sense, but during the day time may be influenced by cultural norms of today to the best of my knowledge. I might be wrong, since I haven’t really researched the Comanche in-depth and my basis for this is the cultures in hot weather locations like Florida and not Texas where the Comanche apparently resided before being forced out by White settler discrimination and violence. If I’m wrong, my sincerest apologies. What I found particularly interesting that the film director and story writers did was that Amber Midthunder’s character of Naru faces foreign threats by Frenchmen who mostly speak French amongst themselves. Instead of the more racially charged or outright racist narrative against Native Americans littered throughout Hollywood, the narrative gives us the purview of a Comanche woman and her experience with foreigners coming into her land. The French huntsmen speaking the French language to her seems to push the narrative of Otherness for American audiences in particular to give a better understanding of how Native Americans may have experienced meeting Western foreigners. Whereas the common language of the US, English, is used liberally for the Comanche depiction to give US audiences an implicit favorability towards the Comanche Nation and the character of Naru, the French language positions the Western incursion of hunters as disturbing and violent for Native Americans. It’s an interesting technique and I’m not sure what else could be used given the cultural hegemony of the English language. The directing team made a pure-Comanche dub of the film, which is probably the most “authentic” version but not one that most English-speaking audiences will understand – myself included. The one for regular audiences is in English.

Nevertheless, what the film does with absolute finesse and class is give us an interesting and deeper look into Comanche Nation life during the early 1700s. When language is used, for short portions mentioning cultural customs of hunting (and there were Comanche female hunters according to the interviews with Amber Midthunder where she cites the Comanche cultural expert who is a Comanche woman herself), the film does it splendidly. In particular, I liked the use of Native American sign language, which evidently has a varied and deep history, when Naru, her brother, and the other hunters were out hunting. The mention of the Thunderbird early on by Naru’s brother and how Naru’s initial explanation of seeing the Predator is compared to a children’s story. Just these conversational snippets help give nuance, depth, and breadth to Comanche and the broader Native American cultures. They give a more positive and more honest framework for how to understand them. Overall, I really enjoyed watching this for all of those reasons and more. I was genuinely surprised how good it was.

The main character, Naru, wants to become recognized as a good hunter for the Comanche Nation, but she keeps falling prey to missteps and failure in her efforts to the point that her brother has to rescue her from a lion after she falls unconscious. It gets unsettling when you see the Predator efficiently murder and take out various animals in the wildlife as trophies, while you watch Naru struggle to do the same with animals that the Predator had killed so quickly. While the initial plotline seems like it could have had gender bias or spew overt “wokeness”, gender isn’t mentioned as the reason for why Naru shouldn’t be a hunter, but rather that . . . she quite credibly kept injuring herself when she tried and she’s better at making medicine, making clothes, and dog training. The attack on her by her fellow Comanche members is due to them wanting to bring her home so she doesn’t injure herself or get captured by Western hunters. When the Predator makes himself known, they immediately drop trying to stop her and work with her to fight the Predator upon realizing she was completely correct about what they see as a mythical monster from their children’s stories. If anything, this is shockingly far more gender neutral and gender equal than most Hollywood portrayals of stories that have a female lead. Naru quickly realizes the only way to win is to outwit it and to use every available resource around her to make-up for her shortcomings. I absolutely loved this part of the film, where she discovers and uses various tools from the rope-axe that she makes for herself, to the French gun to use at the right time by getting an injured Frenchman to show her, and how she steals the mask of the Predator after seeing it shoot his leg when off of him and realizing it works by detecting motion. While it may seem odd, the stratagem is the only possible thing that can work against the Predator, because everyone from her fellow Comanche warriors to the French hunters are at a massive disadvantage because the Predator can turn invisible and no one has a defense for that. Only Naru realizes the defense would be to submerge themselves in water and only after it’s mostly too late. I didn’t mind the technological deficiency as the first Predator film made it clear even boulders could crush them. Throughout the film, her stratagems for killing the Predator constantly fail; from her fellow Comanche getting killed, to her and her brother falling into the Predator’s trap that kills her brother and he speaks his farewell upon realizing it before being killed, and the Frenchmen constantly thinking the Predator is some vague monster and not an efficient mass-murdering alien that can kill them easily. Part of the reason Naru even survives initial encounters is that she’s able to lay low and the Predator can’t even perceive her as a threat similar to the hostage and Arnold himself in the first film. Nevertheless, she’s determined to put him down for similar reasons as Arnold in the first film since her Comanche Nation is in danger so long as the Predator lives and – more interestingly – she wants to prove herself as a good hunter. Her stratagem for using the cowardly Frenchman; who had previously knocked her out, cut her brother open, and put them in cages; as a reversal for being used as bait for the Predator. There is no empathy or mutual understanding due to the violence the French hunters inflicted and I loved that the narrative payback was to use him for her strategy. She uses him as bait to lure the Predator, finds an opening with the Predator’s arm on the dead Frenchman, and then she uses repeated blows to his arm to bleed him with her throwing axe, the French pistol to use as a gunshot, and the wooden spikes she laid to slam his hand into so that it bleeds profusely. The Predator overwhelms her with sheer power despite this, he tries to attack her but she steals his spear to finally chop his arm off when he’s wounded. It was so quick and efficient that I was awed. The use of his own technology to beat him was so well done that I feel as if any story I had with a similar concept of using strategy and wits is made moot due to how fantastic this film did it. She then lures him into a trap and his own helmet’s pinpoint metal shots are used to blast him through the head after it seems like he’s going to behead her with his sharp, metallic shield. The ending is quick and efficient with Naru gaining favor as a recognized hunter once she brings the Predator’s head and gets revenge for her brother’s death. I really enjoyed this film overall and I’d give it a 10 / 10 as I enjoyed it as much as the original Predator film that I watched before it. For those who are undecided on watching it, here’s a 30 minute interview with Amber Midthunder discussing the film with a Washington Post journalist:

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