Dissecting Prey (A Review n Rant)
Reviewed and Written by: Gogoschka
So, I watched 'Prey' and was mostly entertained by it - and some of the gorier scenes were great fun - but I thought the writing was very sloppy, considering the fantastic premise offered so much potential. Sorry if I start to ramble, but it really bugs me when I believe a film could have been greatly improved with a few tweaks of the script. Now, my problems are as follows (please hear me out - and excuse such a terribly long review, but I just can't help myself, lol):
Why is Naru 150% convinced right from the first tiny hint at the predator that there's this HUUGE threat out there? As far as she knows, the predator hasn't hurt anyone except for a snake, and when she finds a weird, huge footprint and sees the unnatural, purple lightning/light flashes just before she falls when the mountain lion attacks - how are those things indicative of a bigger threat than the metal trap her dog gets caught in at the beginning? And why does she even think the mysterious purple flashes and the footprint come from a creature of flesh and blood? The only thing she could possibly conceive of (remember, this is a Native American Girl from 300 years ago) is some forest spirit or even some kind of God that has come to these woods - certainly not a creature that any normal Native American would ever intend to hunt (on the contrary, such a creature would more likely be respected or even worshiped).
What I'm trying to say is: the predator at this point hasn't done anything that would require any action from Naru (or anyone else), and it's only the audience who knows from previous movies that this creature is a threat - there's no way our heroine would logically deduct that from the evidence she has. The trap her dog got caught in at the beginning on the other hand IS a sign for a huge threat to the tribe, but she doesn't even think it's necessary to warn her people about it, let alone further investigate who/what put it there. I think the script does the character of Naru a huge disservice by making her look rather over-ambitious to prove herself instead of giving her a plausible reason for wanting to protect her village by going after the predator.
If on the other hand the script had made the stakes more personal (and more primal), it would have worked to the character's and the story's advantage in my opinion. For example: imagine a scenario where they went after the lion, and her brother defeated it - then out of nowhere comes this monster and kills her brother and Naru's the only one who saw it, and nobody believes her - then she'd have a believable motivation to go after it. But strange lights and a footprint? Really? That doesn't seem in line with anything we know about Native Americans from that period - it's just the script that insists this makes sense.
And Naru's actions towards the bear are another good example of the writing not doing a very good job at showing her as either a skilled hunter or someone who "only wants to protect her people from a threat". Naru is portrayed as this child of nature that knows every plant and every animal track, so when she hears a bear, we must assume she knows it's a bear - yet she goes straight towards it. Why? The bear's not a threat towards anyone, and we learn it's peacefully eating its meal - a scene that shouldn't come as a surprise to a Naru in any way.
But she observes it as if she were witnessing something exceptional or new to her. And does she quickly retreat when the bear gets her scent? No, she tries to shoot at it with a bow and arrow! Why would she do that? Is that the action of an intelligent hunter or someone who wants to protect her people? And when that (literally) backfires and gives her position away, and she only gets saved by the dog distracting the bear, she even runs after this gigantic grizzly and tries again to shoot at it with her bow and arrow (and don't tell me she tries to save her dog, because that dog is perfectly able to outrun the bear, as is made obvious in that scene). The script makes her behave in a way no Native American ever would, and I think the writers should have tried a little harder to portray that culture in a more realistic (and thus more respectful) way.
And the script really doesn't do the character of Naru any favors, because here again she comes mainly across as someone who's eager to prove herself in a one-on-one combat with a dangerous adversary, and so her older brother sending a "rescue party" after her because he fears she could endanger herself seems to make sense. Her actions seem inept and reckless, and the script makes that even worse since the young men sent out by Naru's brother to rescue her all meet a terrible fate.
And here comes another thing that irked me: all the young Native Americans except for Naru's brother are shown as these angry, violent brutes who even beat Naru up. I'm not an expert on Native American cultures but this did strike me as kinda extreme, and it also bothered me in terms of the storytelling. Naru's brother obviously loves her and cares deeply about her, and the other young men who respect him and followed his order to "rescue" her must know that. Would they really behave in such a brutal, violent way towards the beloved sister of the guy who sent them to rescue her?
And I think all these issues could have easily been fixed: If Naru's brother had been killed by the predator after the lion hunt, and If the other young men in her tribe had thought he had been killed by either another lion or a bear and decided to hunt that beast refusing to take the girl along whose story about the "monster" they didn't believe, our heroine would have had a more sympathetic reason to go after that hunting party: both to save them AND to avenge her brother by killing the monster. Instead, the script almost makes it look like she's partly responsible HER rescue party getting killed, because she blindly follows her ambition!
Another huge issue: what's up with the Frenchies? They discover a helpless Native American girl in a trap and decide: she MUST KNOW something; she must help us catch the Predator - err... why? "Mr Alien Trophy hunter" has only just arrived, and we've seen him work his way up from snake, to wolf, to bear, to Native American - but the French haven't even met him yet (if anything, they only caught a glimpse, plus the dude's invisible), so why are they now all so hell-bent on catching it? Even if they had found the body parts of the other Native Americans - why would they care, let alone deduct what that thing's intention was or conclude that they should drop all their activities to catch it with the help of our heroine?
The Frenchies (Trappers) hunt for fur which they can sell - where's the profit in investing all your energy in this predator hunt? Did I miss something here? Absolutely none of their actions or their behavior make any sense. If, on the other hand, the script had set up a scene where's it learn that the whole French party had come under attack by the Predator, and it's now a question of survival for them to learn how to defeat it, then their actions would become justifiable. Unfortunately, there is no such scene.
A good example for how heavy-handed the exposition is: we see Naru find a cigar near the slaughtered buffaloes; then the predator sees a cigar near the slaughtered buffaloes; then we see a disgusting French dude with the same cigar in his mouth, and our heroine says out loud: "Oh, it was YOU who killed the buffalo!" Just to make sure even the most dimwitted audience member gets the dead-buffalo-cigar connection.
Another example for the sloppy writing: The plant that lowers the body temperature to such a degree that the predator literally doesn't see those who have eaten it (and the effect already works mere seconds after the plant has been ingested) is an incredibly dumb plot device. I can believe an alien trophy hunter coming to earth, but I have a hard time suspending my disbelief to the point where this "magic" plant exists that can drop your temperature from 36 degrees Celsius to as low as your surroundings (if I'm not mistaken there's even snowflakes falling during the end fight, so it must be pretty cold - but you'd be in a coma already if your body temperature dropped to only 30 degrees Celsius). Also, how quickly the heroine realizes it's the plant that's responsible for the predator not seeing the wounded translator guy is just plain laughable.
And as if that weren't bad enough regarding the script's shortcomings, is that the protagonist has zero-character arc: Naru remains exactly the same stubborn, ambitious person that thinks she's better than all the others from the beginning of the film until the last frame, without even so much as a hint of any inner-growth. At the end, when she gets celebrated by her people (because surprise, surprise: she DID prove herself), she relishes that moment. She sees a little girl that looks at her with admiring eyes and is proud to be a role model for the next generation of female warriors/hunters. Yet after all she went through - is that how she should feel? I mean, after she decided to go Predator hunting - and the script fails to give her a credible reason other than that she's desperate to prove herself to her people - a whole rescue party led by her brother went after her, and all those young men - including her brother - suffer horrible deaths.
Yet nothing in Naru's final moment of triumph reflects that terrible loss. If anything, I would have expected our heroine to realize that this was a very sad victory, and that her moment of triumph wasn't really one to celebrate, since seemingly most of the young men in her tribe have perished. This was another wasted opportunity by the writers in my opinion: if they had shown Naru distraught at the end when she gets celebrated by the whole village; if we had seen her with an empty stare at the moment, she achieved her goal to prove her worth, they could have given her character more depth (and at least a little bit of an arch).
Still, the film was entertaining - I just wish the script had tried to explore Native American culture in a realistic way and dared to bring something original to the table. The fantastic premise lends itself for more than just a YA action adventure with some added gore, because the predator and the Native Americans reflect each other in interesting ways: both highly value the art of survival in the face of a worthy adversary; even the collection of trophies from defeated foes (scalps for the humans - skulls for the predator) is very similar. This could have been an intelligent thrill-ride exploring those parallels in a fun way and contrast them against each other, but unfortunately, they opted for often unrealistic action and an over-reliance on (not always convincing) CGI instead. In the end, I was reminded more of all the superhero movies of late than of the kind of stripped-down sci-fi action I had hoped for. But I guess this is just what contemporary audiences expect, and the "House of Mouse." delivered!
Prey is available now for streaming courtesy of Hulu.