Here’s a fun game: mention Predator, and watch filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg’s face light up. We do so many times during our quickfire chat at The Langham, one of London’s swankiest hotels – and the effect is always the same. Big. Cheesy. Grin.
“When I was a kid I was terrified of [the monster],” he says, remembering his first experience with the hit 1987 horror’s bloodthirsty warrior alien, “but as I got older, I didn’t find the sequels as scary. So for me, the challenge [with new prequel Prey] was to try and make them scary again.” Do a quick Google, and you’ll see he’s nailed it.
Hailed by critics on social media as “the best Predator film” since Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original, number seven in the franchise (including bonkers crossovers like 2004’s Alien vs. Predator) takes us all the way back to the 1700s, before any of the Arnie action even happened.
Instead, it follows the story of the Comanche people from the Southern Plains of America. With the arrival of a highly-evolved and dangerous beastie, young warrior in training Naru (Amber Midthunder) must fight to protect the tribe. There’s all the “bloody deaths” and “tense action” you’d expect, but Prey also adds enough new and “compelling characters” to supercharge the franchise for 2022. The review embargo hasn’t lifted yet so we can’t say much more, but fans won’t be disappointed.
”For me, it was about finding a story that would be a great movie even if it weren’t a Predator film. Our hero is someone who is trying to prove herself. The alien doesn’t see her as the alpha or the top dog, which gives the movie so much more thematic weight,” says Trachtenberg, “but then making it a Predator movie makes it even better!”
Still not convinced you need to see the hottest horror of the summer? Here’s Trachtenberg, Midthunder and ace-in-the-hole producer Jhane Myers to tell you more. Try not to grin while reading. We bet you can’t.
“You’ll have sweaty palms and a rollicking good time”
What was it about the original movies that made them so iconic?
Dan Trachtenberg, director: “It was the first genre mash-up! The creature left an indelible mark in pop culture. It was cool when it was cloaked – and it was still cool when it de-cloaked and you saw it for the first time properly… We wanted to give diehard fans that sense of surprise again. I really wanted it to feel exciting.”
How did you make the Predator feel fresh again?
DT: “It’s suspense for me – and milking tension assists in that. The look is also much gnarlier than Predators past. But what feels really frightening is the feeling that there’s this wave of destruction coming for our heroes. There’s a lot of that in this movie.”
How did you ensure an accurate representation of the Comanche people?
DT: “Being authentic and specific makes things more universally relatable. We wrote an initial draft of the movie and then quickly sought Comanche advisor Juanita Pahdopony, who helped with the development of the story. She unfortunately passed away while in the long development of the movie. Then when we needed a producer, we tracked down Jhane Myers who brought her own cultural, ancestral and familial knowledge to the project. She would help make the wardrobe, but also craft awesome character moments.
Can you give me an example?
DT: “There’s this specific scene where Naru whistles – and that was not in the initial draft of the script. Comanche don’t whistle at night, because they think it will evoke an evil spirit. If you have that knowledge, then that scene is really spine-chilling. if you don’t have that knowledge, it feels like a very specific choice for a character to make. So it works both ways, but having that authenticity can enhance even a genre moment, you know?
What do you think both fans and newcomers are going to take away from Prey?
DT: “I hope they find it to be a moving experience. I’m certain that they will have sweaty palms and a rollocking good time, but I also hope that they are shocked, like “oh that was actually kind of moving.’”
”This film will give you new appreciation for native culture”
Who did you call first when you started work on Prey?
Jhan Myers, producer: “I’m Comanche, so I started with my tribe. I told them I was making this film and I called on some key people to help me out. They were all willing to help and make sure that we got it authentically correct.”
In terms of representation behind the camera, do you think the industry’s changing fast enough?
JM: “It can never change fast enough but I think, importantly, it is changing. This film will do a lot to shift the paradigm Hollywood has created around native culture – and also about women and native people as producers. Usually, when you’re trying to put native content into a project it’s only 20 percent of the project. This is 110 per cent. In post-production, we did a full [version] in the Comanche language, which has never been done before.”
What do you hope people leave the cinema thinking?
JM: “I hope that they get a new appreciation for native culture. Prey shows we’re not the villains, we’re not a sidekick. It shows us as a people. It shows our culture, our warrior society. Hopefully people will get that – and maybe an interest in our language.”
”It’s got the spirit of the original”
Naru is a complex character with a lot of layers – was it easy to relate to her?
Amber Midthunder, who plays Naru: “She’s really determined and really set on something, but she’s filled with doubt at the same time. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s something that everybody experiences. You feel like ‘I can do this’ or ‘that’s really important’ – but when you get the opportunity you think, ‘oh God did I make a mistake? Should I not have fought for this?’ And then you see it through. I found that to be very relatable.”
Was it scary filming with the Predator in full costume?
AM: “It was a mix of being fascinated and really scared. The head was animatronic and there were three or four people off-set moving it, like in a video game. I kept thinking, ‘oh my god, what if this was a real monster in front of me’ and then that would make me feel really scared… I wasn’t acting to a tennis ball, I was really looking at a monster.”
Are there any Easter eggs in the film for fans?
AM: “There’s a lot of fun things in the movie that wink at those [earlier] movies. [It’s got] the spirit of the original Predator movie – a group of people who work as a team to hunt [an enemy] who doesn’t. And then it stands on its own too. I hope everybody loves the new design of the Predator and the new weapons. Dan [Trachtenberg] did a great job of tying in the old things that make it so loved and then creating a new movie with a new world.”
‘Prey’ is on Disney+ from August 5