Prey is a different beast to most recent franchise blockbusters

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Before its release a few days ago, few people would have predicted that the new Predator movie, Prey, was likely to capture the zeitgeist, not to mention the heart of Film Twitter. Reviews were positive, but it was still a stripped-back mid-budget franchise update that went straight to streaming on Hulu while all the Hollywood traffic, inspired by a resurgent box office, went the other way. meaning.

And yet here was revered arthouse filmmaker Barry Jenkins, spending his Saturday night live-tweeting breathlessly watching the new film, praising it and its director Dan Trachtenberg. “I mean she beat it DOWN – the girl is TUFF,” he enthused after a fight scene featuring the heroine, Comanche hunter Naru (Amber Midthunder). “It’s a lean, mean, awesome movie. The gear is on POINT,” tweeted Jenkins, who knows what he’s talking about. The fight choreography was “impeccable.” visceral genre of manifest destiny”. Jenkins signed off: if you “like visceral, awesome ass flicks, you should REALLY watch PREY, certified hype.”

He was not alone. All over social media, moviegoers expressed their surprise at the quality of the film and their frustration at not having been able to see it on the big screen. Prey really seems to have struck a chord. It was surprising for a film series that, while still reliably entertaining, struggled to recapture the popular imagination after the phenomenal Predator broke out in 1987. Most Predator the sequels were content to wallow in their trashy niche, while the biggest swing, that of 2018 The predator, was also the biggest miss. What went well this time?

Photo: David Bukach/20th Century Studios

Perhaps those low expectations were key — not just from the audience, but also from the studio. Ambivalence among new Disney franchise owner over Predator’s actual popularity may be one of the reasons behind Preymakes its streaming debut. But it must also have taken a lot of pressure off the film, at a time when Hollywood bosses are particularly obsessed with pushing every last drop of potential from each franchise onto their books. The result is that Trachtenberg was able to make a film that contrasts sharply and refreshingly with the majority of current franchise fare.

Unlike, say, Jurassic World Dominion, Prey doesn’t have to bear the burdens that come with a huge budget, a globe-trotting shoot, a sprawling cast that includes all the main characters from two separate subseries, or a need to constantly raise the stakes all at once. stopped foot to the next one. It doesn’t need to find a home in traditions that have accumulated over decades like layers of silt. He doesn’t have to sneak in crossover cameos at the behest of universe-building executives.

With all of these pressures and considerations to accommodate, the fate of many franchise films, Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets at Ghostbusters: Afterlife, has been convoluted storytelling, disorganized production, restrained self-mythification, and overlong running times. It’s often hard, looking at these bloated productions, to remember that most of these series started out as simple, escapist antics.

Naru and his brother Taabe, on horseback, in the woods of Prey

Photo: 20th Century Studios

However, Prey is the image of its inspiration: a tense 100-minute genre film that takes a simple concept and executes it sparingly, but with relentless purpose. The stroke of genius of Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison is to make Prey a prequel, but a game so far from the original Predator – 268 years ago – that he effectively gave them a blank slate. Add in the fact that Predator lore is hardly over-developed in the first place, and you have a movie that’s free to be itself, without having to reckon with or fill in any backstory.

Prey breathes with the space that so many of its modern sci-fi and action peers lack. Its crisp, well-edited action scenes are matched with the clearly depicted beats of Naru’s quest to prove herself a hunter, and interpolated with contemplative travel shots in beautiful wilderness. There is no plot B. There is no exposition, because there really is no plot to expose; something is out there, killing, and it has to be stopped. There’s even some room to expand the thematic scope of the Predator universe a bit, as the sport of the alien hunter contrasts with the ever-vital food chains of the American wilderness and the brutal, technologically powerful exploitation of another type of alien invader. : the white man.

This kind of ingenious brand extension isn’t new territory for Trachtenberg, who has somehow turned a claustrophobic psychological thriller script into a sequel to a blockbuster monster movie, without betraying its bottled B-movie charm, in 2016. 10 Cloverfield Lane. The fun and ingenuity of this film was in how Trachtenberg would find a way to fit the previous title into the new one. With Prey, he pulled off a mirror feat: stripping the new film of all the baggage of a modern film franchise, down to the title. All that’s left is his raw, unforgiving spirit.

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