“Prey,” the new prequel to the Predator movies, is a more than worthy addition to the franchise. Based on lead actor Amber Midthunder’s performance, it’s a tight and thrilling ride from start to finish. It’s also exceptional (and getting rave reviews) for another reason: it features an Indigenous cast and features a truly authentic portrayal, thanks in large part to the close proximity to actual members of the Comanche tribe.
For Midthunder, who is herself part of the Fort Peck Sioux Tribe, the opportunity to showcase Indigenous culture on screen was both welcome and necessary. Midthunder is grateful “to have had the opportunity to break down” stereotypes, she says. “I’ll find a lot of people don’t know it like, ‘Oh, the natives are actually very well-kept or actually very smart, or very skilled, or very strategic’ – not the things you normally see, which is either hyperspiritual or extremely violent.We have characters who are full-fledged people with emotions and desires and a variety of personalities and relationships.
“Prey,” released via Hulu on August 5, centers on a young Comanche warrior named Naru, played by Midthunder. Set in 1719, it begins when Naru, determined to become a hunter like her brother, witnesses what she believes to be a thunderbird – or gigantic winged creature based on Aboriginal mythology – but it’s actually the arrival of a Predator ship. Before seeing the real bloodthirsty alien, who was first introduced in 1987’s ‘Predator’, she notices signs that something is wrong: strange glowing green blood splattered on the trees around her and gigantic footprints larger than those of any bear. All of this creates an ominous feeling that eventually turns into explosive action.
“Prey” is also a story about colonialism, and it’s not hard to notice the similarities between the brutality of colonization and the deadly Predator invasion. After an altercation with the Predator during a hunt, Naru is trapped by French fur traders who interrogate her about what she saw and torture her brother. Indeed, as Midthunder puts it, there’s “all kinds of stuff inside a movie that has a giant alien.”
To make the film’s Comanche portrayal authentic, real Comanche members were not only consulted, but also kept at the heart of the entire filmmaking process. The film’s producer, Jhane Meyers, is a member of the Comanche Nation, and “she was part of it from the very beginning, just making sure things were accurate and involved,” Midthunder said.
Director Dan Trachtenberg was also sure to adhere to historical accuracy without falling into pitfalls like virtue and cliché. “Dan was so open and so eager to include everything he could about the culture,” Midthunder said. “Not even in a huge way that always shoves it in your face, because that’s just how people live.” Even the smallest details, like the shape of Naru’s toothbrush, have been checked for authenticity. The film also gives audiences the option to watch with a Comanche dub or Comanche subtitles – the first film to offer this option.
“It’s really important to me to be Comanche and to work with our Comanche language department, as well as working with Comanche language speakers,” Meyers told SlashFilm. “Just the fact that people have the choice, that the world has the choice to listen to the whole movie in Comanche is amazing.”
Playing a woman from the Comanche Nation in the role of a valiant protector and warrior was also a choice rooted in tradition. “Even outside of the ‘Predator’ element…Comanches are known to be incredible hunters and warriors,” Midthunder says. “They are strong, fierce, amazing.”
These same descriptors could be used to describe Midthunder’s performance. The 25-year-old, known for her appearances in ‘Roswell’ and ‘Legion’, underwent months of combat training for the role. The filmmaking process, which took place in the wilderness of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, was no small feat for the entire team. “The action was wild,” she says. “There is a story for every scene.” A scene set in a river required an hour-long trip out of town, a hike up a mountain, and a boat ride through icy waters.
Another scene takes place in a burning clearing. “It felt like we were never going to leave,” Midthunder says. “It was just this huge pitch of black ash and soot and coal. That smoke had some weird bits of ash in it. We were talking and then it landed in your mouth – you couldn’t see anything because it was so thick. It would come in a wave, and all of a sudden you’d be like, ‘I’m going blind,’ and then it would go away.”
For Midthunder, it was all part of the ride. “Each day offered a wild new experience,” she says — of course it would be worth it in the end. “There was never a single moment that wasn’t just uplifting and exciting,” she adds. “Looking at the final product, [I’m] really proud.”