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The creature we all know as The Predator celebrated its 35th birthday this year, and decades after its first appearance in John McTiernan's 1987 film Predator, the alien hunter remains a steadfast piece of pop culture iconography. Whether it's rampaging through the streets of Los Angeles, battling the Xenomorph from Alien, or taking down a group of hand-selected targets on an alien planet, fans everywhere recognize its monstrous appearance and finely tuned skill set.
So, when it came to delivering an entirely new take on a Predator story, writer/director Dan Trachtenberg had a very fine line to walk.
"I think that the reason why the Predator franchise is still around, despite having a lot of ups and downs in the movies and all the sequels, is the design of that creature," Trachtenberg told SYFY WIRE. "It's just sort of a part of pop culture. And I knew that we were going to tweak it a little bit and that's quite daunting, but I was very heartened to finally find a design that felt very Predator, but also it's entirely new. It is not just a little tweak of the mandible here, a little bit of adjustment the eyebrow there, it's a totally different thing."
The same could be said of Prey, the fifth film in the Predator franchise, and the first to take us back to a time in humanity's past that reveals the struggles with the Predator creature are much older than we first realized. In crafting the film, and the creature at its core, Trachtenberg had an interesting mission: Make something that feels like a Predator movie, while at the same time delivering something unlike anything we've seen from the franchise before. That started with setting the tone, and getting the creature design right was crucial.
"I knew spiritually what I wanted in developing the story," Trachtenberg said. "We knew that we wanted it to feel much more primal, feral, ferocious. I knew that I didn't want it to have as much weaponry, feel a little bit more sparse, nude, more creature-like than any that we had seen before. But it took a lot of iterations with [creature studio Amalgamated Dynamics] and the incredible artists there to find the final design."
The final design of the new Predator, and the weapons and skills it unleashes in Prey, are all things you'll have to wait to see in the final film, but that primal tone carries through the entire story. Set in the Great Plains of North America in the early 18th century, the film follows Naru (Ambert Midthunder), a Comanche woman who dreams of being a warrior and a hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). Though she spends her days gathering medicine, Naru dreams of finding the one great hunt that will prove her worth to her people, and she unexpectedly finds it when the Comanche warriors discover something is hunting them, something bigger and more dangerous than a bear.
Naru's journey to confront the creature is the intense core of the film, and it required Midthunder to dive headfirst into both physical action sequences and emotional moments that, because it's the story of hunters quietly stalking their prey, often required her to act without the aid of dialogue.
"It was definitely something that I thought about going into it," Midthunder said of the film's wordless sequences. "Because, of course, you read the script and there's just so many pages of description after description after description, and it's beautifully described writing. So that definitely crossed my mind. And I think honestly what it just came down to, and I think what helped so much, was the realism of the way that we were shooting, because we were literally just in the woods. I was actually in a giant, very cold pool in a beaver dam with arms coming at me. So a lot of it was playing off of things that were real, and also taking every moment that we could beforehand to be very thoughtful, and Dan and I going through the story and talking about what everything meant and the different kind of range of each moment and how we could construct that. Even though it is a big fun action movie, putting effort into those story moments [was important]."
Immersion into the real-life Canadian wilderness that stood in as the Great Plains was also important to the entire cast, who shot the film amid COVID-19 lockdowns, isolated from the rest of the world. For Beavers, who makes his film debut with Prey, getting a chance to dig deep into not just Taabe's role, but the entire Comanche community assembled for the film, was essential to making it all work.
"One of the great things about this project is that we all got to do a four-week boot camp before we started filming," Beavers said. "So, me, Amber, and the boys all were doing training together, and not to mention us all hanging out together after work there in Calgary. We all were getting into trouble all the time. So, that was fantastic. And [Amber was] so helpful. This is my first project, so just helping me understand what's going on terminology-wise. And so, it was great pretty much from the get-go."
Prey's efforts to deliver something that feels real and immersive for its actors pay off onscreen, as we see everything from the day-to-day life of the Comanche community in the Great Plains to the more mundane aspects of the hunt. In the end, though, this is a Predator movie, and you want to see the creature himself do his thing. That duty fell to actor Dane DiLegro, who donned the new version of the creature's costume and went into battle against Midthunder, Beavers, and the rest of the cast. We can't tell you exactly how that battle will go, but according to Beavers, being a part of it was an intense experience, despite his awareness that it was all make-believe.
"It was pretty wicked. The first time I saw him, I was like, 'Holy smokes,'" he said. "You see this seven-foot-plus guy in this pretty convincing suit. And a lot of the scenes we shoot with him, there's this fog that they create. And when you see that guy walking through the fog, it just looks just as ominous in person as on screen. If you hadn't told me, you might think something bad was going down."
Prey premieres on Aug. 5 on Hulu.
Looking for another movie about a predator hunting its prey? Stream The Shallows on Peacock.