The Predator franchise is moving forward… by going back in time. More precisely, to the early 18th Century, as Prey – which arrives August 5 on Hulu – pits everyone’s favorite towering intergalactic stalker against adversaries on the pre-American Great Plains. Set in the Comanche Nation 300 years ago, Prey follows a young woman, Naru (Amber Midthunder), whose burgeoning hunting skills are overlooked by her community.
Setting out to both prove herself and protect her people, Naru faces down a fierce alien Predator roaming and terrorizing the landscape, which only she truly understands is beyond any threat her people have ever faced.
Fandom recently spoke to the creators and cast of Prey at San Diego Comic-Con to dig into this new ferocious franchise installment – and to figure out the best ways to take down a technologically-advanced alien who’s out for a hunt.
A NEW TAKE ON PREDATOR
When it comes to the movies of the Predator franchise, it’s only ever been referenced that these intergalactic hunters have been visiting Earth for a long while – for centuries, in fact. The old Predator comics, however, would jump around into different time periods. Director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) has been “hellbent on making a period science fiction film” – and found this to be a natural fit, coming to 20th Century Studios with the pitch for Prey.
“There is a little bit of the wish fulfillment of the kind of thing that you only see it in comic book form, actually doing it for real, that’s a big part of it” he said, adding he wanted Prey to not “just be a fun, visceral experience,” but “an emotional one as well.”
Continued Trachtenberg, “I thought about, well, if we took the engine of a sports film and injected that into this action movie we can actually have a lot of heart. And in thinking about that underdog story, I thought, well, wouldn’t it be great if the story of the making of the movie could mirror the story that the character is going through inside the movie. I thought how Native Americans – and Comanche in particular – are so often relegated to playing the sidekicks or the villains and never really the hero. So sort of a combination of all of those things led to this pitch.”
Producer Jhane Myers expanded on the film’s significance, saying “it really sets that bar high for representation. Because not only do we have a predominantly native cast, but we also had native people behind the camera. Because most of the time, when native people are hired, they’re in front of the camera as actors, or even background. This was just an all-encompassing native [crew].
“And that’s one thing you get when you have a native producer,” Myers continued. “Even the people that were the voice actors, that did the walla [crowd murmur] in the background, we had Comanche people there. We had Comanche linguists come. And this is the first time that a film is going to have a complete Comanche dub. That’s a first for my nation. Comanches.”
BRINGING THE FIGHT
Prey is a hyper-physical film, one that contains a ton of stunt work and, naturally, a huge showdown between Naru and this particular Predator (played by actor/former basketball player Dane DiLiegro). But the cast was game and ready to dive into the mud and blood of it all. “The physical element is different,” explained the film’s star, Amber Midthunder (Legion / Roswell, New Mexico). “I’ve been fortunate to encounter stunts before when I’ve worked but this is so different than anything like that. Because it wasn’t anything as clean as martial arts or weapons or anything that I’ve done before. It was very visceral.”
“Dan wanted to be very real and kind of raw in that experience,” she remarked. “There was kind of no avoiding the realness of everything. Every day was very intense, regardless of what kind of intensity it was. There was definitely almost a sense of ease, I think, of showing up and having days where we got to have really narrative heavy days… Because so much of it is obviously action and it’s outside and all this [intense] stuff.”
Added Midthunder, “I think what, to me, really grounded this story was, of course, my perspective of Naru’s story, but just in general, the humaneness. I didn’t know that this was a Predator film when I first auditioned for it so it only lived as this story about these Comanche people.”
DiLiegro’s Predator is unlike any we’ve seen on film before. There’ll be new weapons to showcase, of course — more on that below — but this hunter’s a lot more primal than its predecessors (or, er, successors, timeline-wise). As DiLiegro put it, “If the other predators from the past films are from New York City, this guy is from the Outback in Australia.”
Myers noted she could connect the Predator to stories from her own childhood, explaining, “In our Comanche mythology, we’ve always had, like, a Predator. Our name for that is Pia Mupitz, which is big monster. And this big monster, when we refer to it, we tell children don’t cry at night or you better behave or we’re going to call Pia Mupitz to come to our house if you’re not behaving! So growing up, I’ve always heard about this.”
THE PERFECT WEAPON?
When it comes to those the Predators hunt, we’ve never seen a species be able to match the alien weapon-for-weapon. The Predators always have the tech advantage. Prey of course includes some truly lethal space gear for the Predator, albeit designed to reflect the fact that this is centuries before the Predator seen in the original 1987 Predator film.
“It was a lot of fun to come up with this arsenal,” Trachtenberg said. “It was challenging because of the design of the Predator, because we wanted to really strip it down and feel so much more creature-like. It made sense for us to not really go into a more armored look that we used to see. So all the weight of the take we were using for the Predator was all placed on its weaponry. But it did allow us to have a blast designing a cut clamp and a net ball and a cross bolt and all of these things that can be a delight even for diehard franchise fans to see their Predator wield.”
Regarding his own favorite, DiLiegro said, “One particular weapon that stood out most to me, based on the fact that it was in my hands most out of all the weapons, was the Combistick [Telescoping Spear]. And obviously that plays a tremendous role in the film.”
Regarding his Predator’s onscreen tussles, DiLiegro noted, “One scene in particular that sticks out to me is my fight with this guy here,” pointing to his co-star, Dakota Beavers as Taabe, Naru’s brother.
As DiLiegro explained, “One thing you may not know is I’m blind through the whole shooting process. I’m looking through two holes in the neck [of the Predator mask] at the ground. For the Predator to look forward, I have to look at the ground and kind of shrug my shoulders in a way that hides that. And it was a situation with him where it’s like ‘Hey, dude, during this fight sequence, if you don’t duck, you’re gonna get hit, because I can’t see you,’ And we went through a lot of rehearsal, a lot of choreography. That is one of my favorite fights in the movie. It’s so dynamic.”
“Yeah, and it made it real for me,” Beavers said, with a laugh. “I gotta dodge this thing or else I’m gonna die!”
So if a Predator was bearing down on them for real, and it was going to be a fight to the death, what weapon would the cast choose to battle with? “Okay, so if it was a straight up, square up, you know, I love the spear, man,” Beavers said. “Something real and deadly sharp. I mean, the spear, it goes without appreciation.”
Amber Midthunder had a different idea though. “I believe your greatest weapon is your mind,” she said, with a grin. “I mean, truly though, you look at it in all of the films throughout the franchise and the thing that to me makes the Predator different and the throughline of what makes the series interesting is the fact that this monster-creature-alien thing is so much more intellectual. It has, I think, a far more complex motivation of trying to seek out an opponent. It’s not just like world domination or senseless violence. It’s something very specific. So… your brain!”
“There is a correct answer to this question,” Trachtenberg remarked, about the best weapon to fight a Predator. “And the answer is… none. Because if you’re unarmed, he will not attack you.”
Trachtenberg then admitted his answer was a variation on Midthunder’s, to which she replied, “I had a fight response, you had a flight response.”
Prey debuts August 5 on Hulu in the US and on Disney+ in other countries.
Additional reporting by Eric Goldman.