Prey ★★★

Fantastic concept - both in transplanting the Predator into the past and in focusing on a Native American tribe. I honestly think the last major studio film to feature a Native American cast that's about Native Americans that isn't based on a historical event was 1998's "Smoke Signals." The various cultures of indigenous Americans are (obviously) sorely underrepresented in modern media, which is why this film feels so refreshing - it's a bombastic, aggressive response to 24 years of missed opportunities. It's also a "having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too" situation in that it's the first Predator movie since "Predator 2" in 1990 that isn't earth-shatteringly awful (some people think "Predator 2" is awful, but not me, I love that shit).

While the concept is incredible, the execution leaves some things to be desired. We do get an ample amount of the classic Predator carnage that hardcore fans of the franchise have come to expect, but it's almost entirely back-loaded in the film. The first half is strong when it comes to character development, but the story itself is trope-city, and the dialogue is so on-the-nose that it made me cringe. The whole thing is built on an old and unsurprising idea: a young girl wants to prove herself as a hunter when no-one in her tribe takes her seriously - an important message (no doubt), but one that's boring when played completely straight. I honestly had trouble paying attention during the first half, especially since I saw this at home with the temptation of my phone at arm's length. 

And the abundance of CGI animals... Yikes! Y'all weren't lying. The VFX artists clearly didn't have the time or money to finish these effects and make them look convincing. The various animals don't necessarily look terrible, but you can always tell that they are fake, and that's a problem when the entire first half of your film revolves around scene-after-scene of CGI animals. There's a bear attack about midway through that's supposed to be frightening for both the main character and the audience, but it falls completely flat because it's all noticeably "off." If ever there was a case for why practical FX reign supreme over CGI, it's "Prey." I mean, one of the greatest moments in the original film is when the Predator takes off his mask and you see his ghastly animatronic face with his gross mouth pinchers wiggling about. In "Prey" when the Predator takes off his mask, it's clearly CGI, and imperfect CGI at that. WHAT A LET DOWN. You're telling me that they didn't have enough money left over in the budget to create a lil' animatronic mask for the money shot of the Predator's face?! C'mon now!

With 40 minutes left to go, French fur traders show up as sacks of meat for the Predator to mow through, and the film finally kicks into high gear. THIS is the shit that I signed up for - brutal and unrelenting mayhem. And while I wish I saw this in theaters, I'm happy that I could instantly rewind some of the kills to watch them over and over. Amber Midthunder rightfully earns her status as one of the franchise's best characters during this final stretch; she's a great action heroine and is completely believable as a formidable opponent to the Predator. Although the final moments of the climatic fight are undoubtedly silly, there's nothing better than character growth coming full-circle. As a cinephile, that really keeps me going.

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