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Naru draws a bow at an unseen target in the film Prey Photo: David Bukach/20th Century Studios

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Dan Trachtenberg tells us why Prey is like a sports movie

‘I think that’s something all of us can relate to much more than Arnold Schwarzenegger’

Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

Thirty-two years ago, 1990’s Predator 2 ended with a tantalizing tease. It confirmed that the eponymous alien seen in 1987’s Predator was just one member of an alien race of ruthless hunters, and it ended with one of those hunters giving the film’s hero a flintlock pistol as a trophy for defeating one of their kind. It was a small but exciting tidbit, strongly implying that Predators have been coming to Earth and hunting humans for a long time — and that all sorts of movies could be born from that premise.

Strangely, however, the next few decades of the Predator franchise never focused on chronicling humanity’s secret history with the Predators. That’s the first exciting thing about Prey, the latest installment in the franchise. Co-writer and director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) sets the film in 1719, presenting what might be the first time a Predator hunted on Earth. It’s also the first time a Predator got more than they bargained for from a human, thanks to the film’s protagonist, a Comanche woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder).

In advance of the movie’s launch on Hulu, Trachtenberg spoke with Polygon about the movie’s real inspiration: sports movies. And other things, of course. But mostly sports movies.

Polygon: How big of a swerve are you hoping to make with Prey? What does the Predator franchise mean to you?

Dan Trachtenberg: It’s about survival. It’s about who is the alpha, who is the strongest, because the Predator is sort of looking for the most competent hunter on whatever planet he’s arrived on. The original movie talks about masculinity, and about how effective or ineffective that is. If you dig down in a few layers and think about the way [the original] movie opens and the way it feels, and what we know of Arnold [Schwarzenegger’s character, Dutch] — we see all [the characters’] big guns, and we see how ineffective they are, and how crass those guys are, and how ineffective that attitude is.

Naru swings at the Predator who is just off screen in the movie Prey Photo: David Bukach/20th Century Studios

[Prey] kind of goes in the other direction. It still is about the nature of strength and what it is to be strong. It’s also about adaptability and dealing with doubt: self-doubt and doubt from those around you. It’s an underdog story, and I think that’s what sets it apart from the others. The other Predator movies are following a slasher-movie genre template, and this movie is following more of a sports-movie template, and an adventure-movie template.

Naru is unique among Predator protagonists in that she isn’t the top of her class, the undisputed best warrior. What were you trying to convey with her?

I mean, exactly as you stated, watching someone who was not considered to be the top trying as hard as they can, with blood, sweat, and tears, fighting to be that. I think that’s something all of us can relate to much more than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who I think represents more of a wish-fulfillment for all of us. Amber represents more of an empowerment.

I’m not an athlete, I don’t participate in sports. I don’t watch sports. But I happen to love sports movies. And so giving this movie that soul — giving any action movie the soul of that kind of movie — I think allowed it to be more thematic. The theme would have been rich even if there was no Predator in this movie. The fact that it is makes it even more thematically valid and impactful.

What did you hope for in setting this film in the 1700s, among the Comanche?

The Comanche people, prior to this movie in pop culture, have been portrayed as sidekicks or villains, and never really the hero. So I wanted to have the story behind the movie itself be linked to the story Naru goes through, and having it be a real rise-to-the-occasion moment for anyone who seems less important, or can feel that way in the real world.

Dakota Beavers as Taabe in the movie Prey Photo: David Bukach/20th Century Studios

So I can relate to this movie in my own specific way, but also Native American, First Nations, all Indigenous people, and then Comanche even more specifically, can have a connection to this movie that hopefully is even more intense.

Separate from those things, having a period science fiction movie is also very exciting. It’s something we don’t get that often that I’ve always been seeking after.

Because Predator movies usually come so far apart from each other, they can often feel like reflections of their individual era of action movies. Do you think that’s true of Prey?

I was probably more inspired by Gravity and The Revenant and 1917. Survivalist movies, even more so than action films, I think. You know, there’s Marvel and DC and what they’re doing. And there’s John Wick and some of the imports we’ve been getting from other countries. And the American action movie hasn’t had a lot of room outside of those spaces. So it was exciting for me to have a lot of different kinds of action.

In the movie, there are intense suspense sequences, there are moments of horror, there are predatory moments, there are slasher-film moments. And there’s also great, exciting choreography, wielded by Amber and Dakota [Beavers, who plays Taabe] in their scene. So I really wanted to go all out and deliver on a lot of different kinds of thrills, rather than being one genre’s kind of action.

Frankly, the other thing I’ll say is that the first movie is much more a mashup of action and horror, for me. This movie was more of a mashup of adventure and suspense, and that’s the kind of movie that has gone away. When I was growing up, the big movies were movies like The Last of the Mohicans, Legends of the Fall, Braveheart — real adventure movies. The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are kind of the last movies like that. That kind of movie doesn’t get made that often. And I love that we were able to infuse this with a little bit of that.

Prey will be available to stream on Hulu on Aug. 5.