Producers: John Davis, Jhane Myers and Marty Ewing   Director: Dan Trachtenberg   Screenplay: Patrick Aison   Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Michelle Thrush, Stormer Kipp, Julian Black Antelope, Dane DiLiegro, Bennett Taylor, Corvin Mack, Tyman Carter, Skye Pelletier, Harlan Kytwayhat, Mike Paterson, Nelson Leis and Samuel Marty   Distributor: Twentieth Century Films/Hulu

Grade: C+

The fifth film in the “Predator” franchise (the seventh if you could the two “Alien/Predator” spinoffs) is actually a prequel in terms of chronology—it’s set in 1719.  The other salient fact about it is that it’s a weird hybrid of the franchise’s horror-action template and a young person’s adventure story (that is, what once would have been termed a boy’s adventure story, but with the currently fashionable female protagonist). 

The title seems to suggest that somehow “Prey” is the opposite of the original “Predator,” but that’s definitely not the case.  Indeed, the script by Patrick Aison follows the beats of John McTiernan’s 1987 picture extremely closely: a party of hunters encounters an alien being primed to do to-the-death battle with any antagonist it stumbles upon.  Possessed of incredible strength and formidable weapons, as well as a cloaking power, it slashes through opponent after opponent—beginning with animals like a snake and a wolf—until at last it must face off against the last human standing.

Of course, in the original that final combatant was Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing the head of a military team on a mission in the South American jungle.  In “Prey,” the Schwarzenegger character is transformed into Naru (Amber Midthunder), a member of a Comanche tribe in the Northern Great Plains in the early eighteenth century.  Naru lives with her widowed mother and older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers), one of the tribe’s best hunters; feisty and confident, Naru wants to be a hunter as well, but Taabe, while mindful of her many abilities, is skeptical, and the other braves are arrogantly dismissive. 

All welcome her tracking skill, however, when one of the hunters goes missing and is found to have been mauled by a mountain lion.  Naru, however comes to suspect that something bigger and more vicious is out there, and after Taabe kills the lion, she goes off accompanied only by her loyal dog Sarii to confront it.  What follows is effectively her tribal warrior test—which is presumably the same sort of exercise the extraterrestrial visitor is undergoing in its species.

Naru tracks the beast, played in armored overlay by Dane DiLiegro, and watches from hiding while it skewers a bear that has been pursuing her.  At another point she falls into quicksand and is able to save herself only because she has mastered the art of throwing her tomahawk with a rope attached so that she can pull it back—an apparatus that can also serve as a means of pulling herself to safety after the tomahawk has become embedded in a tree. 

Eventually others become involved in the battle.  There’s a group of nasty French trappers, armed with firearms, who take Naru captive but soon find themselves under assault by the beast even though one of them (Bennett Taylor) is more cultured than the others and shares her sense of the danger they all face.  And Taabe arrives with a few other warriors looking for his sister, only to be forced to face off against the creature they had previously considered nothing but a monster from children’s tales.  At one point Naru and Taabe will be used as bait by the trappers to lure the predator into a net trap (not unlike the one employed in the original movie)—a ploy that of course fails just as it did in the first film, leaving brother and sister to stand alone in a final battle.  (Trust that the quicksand will also make a repeat appearance.)  It will come as no surprise that Naru eventually earns Taabe’s respect as a warrior, and that she emerges triumphant, covered in the creature’s luminous green blood.

“Prey” benefits from the performances of Midthunder and Beavers, a good supporting cast, and the generally able direction of Dan Trachtenberg.  It boasts evocative visuals, the Canadian locations caught in darkened hues of green and gray by cinematographer Jeff Cutter and the Comanche milieu captured nicely in Kara Lindstrom’s production design and Stephanie Porter’s costumes.  The visual effects supervised by Ryan Cook are good even if they offer no major tweaks from earlier installments, while Angela M. Catanzaro and Claudia Castello’s editing doesn’t dawdle, energizing the action scenes along with Sarah Shachner’s intense score.

One must also respect the attention to Comanche culture, not only in terms of casting but the periodic use of tribal language (ordinarily translated quickly into the English that dominates most of the dialogue, except for the trappers’ subtitled French).  You might regret, though, Aison’s occasional slips into modern idiom, as for example when Taabe encourages Naru to finish the task by telling her to “bring it home.”

But while the picture is certainly one of the better installments in the franchise (though that’s hardly saying much), and its unusual setting gives it added interest, its combination of two familiar scenarios—the basic “Predator” plot and the gender-reversed “test of a warrior” trope—comes off feeling rather tired.  The result is a mixed bag, watchable but no game-changer.