ThIs week I proposed rating films by the amount of time my husband and I spend shouting at the TV screen (when streaming). “Prey” begins well, setting up the beautiful world of the Northern Great Plains Comanche in 1719 before veering into science fiction. This is a prequel to the “Predator” series with a great diversity casting and three different languages (Comanche, French and English) employed to tell the story. Don’t worry, there are subtitles and no dogs die although people do because that’s what Predator films are all about. While I do like gutsy heroines, I’m not a fan of someone who does foolish things and puts their team at risk.
If you watch “Prey” or have already watched it, you might, like my husband and I, have a few questions. I try to answer those as well.
The Hulu blurb reads: “An all-new entry in the Predator franchise, set 300 years ago, tells the story of a young Comanche woman, a fierce and highly skilled warrior, who stalks and ultimately confronts, a highly evolved alien predator with a technically advanced arsenal.”
And yet my husband and I were yelling at the screen at different times for different reasons. More on that later.
The first words we hear are a woman speaking in Comanche in VoiceOver against a black screen (“Soobesükütsa tüa pia mipitsi ikü kümai”). The woman then translates into English: “A long time ago, it is said, a monster came here.”
In the beginning, we get idyllic scenes of nature (Jeff Cutter is director of photography), imagining what the Northern Great Plains looked like in September 1719. There’s a river and the sounds of insects and birds. We see a bull elk alone. Then we meet Naru (Amber Midthunder); she’s sleeping with black markings on her face near a fire inside her teepee across from her dog. She goes into the forest with her dog to gather useful roots. She follows her dog away from the other women and practices using her tomahawk against the trees. Seeing the footprints of a deer, she attempts to hunt it with her dog, trying to take it down with her tomahawk. During this chase, after the buck has already escaped, her dog, Sarii, gets its tail stuck in a steel trap. The steel trap figures in our story later on, but we’re not too concerned about the damage to Sarii’s tail.
Naru has a revelation. She spots a fiery red cloud activity in the sky. In the mind of a person who has never seen a car and, in a world that has yet to travel into space, this is a mystical sign–a Thunderbird. She believes she’s ready for her first big hunt, known as a “kuhtaamia.” Of course, you’re thinking that’s something that men would traditionally do, not women. Naru is determined to do things because others think she can’t. Her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers) questions her, remembering when he was deemed ready for Kuhtaamia by their father (who is now out of the picture for reasons never explained). Taabe and Naru are practicing archery. Taabe shoots down a hawk that has caught a fish before Naru can. She was waiting for it to circle back, but Taabe asks her, “You really think you’re ready? You want to hunt something that’s hunting you.”
Naru has been trained as a healer by her mother (Michelle Thrush), which is important, but Naru wants something else. After being sent to gather the petals of a medicinal yellow flower alone except for Sarii, she returns to the campsite as her brother is gathering other young men to find a lion because it “got Puhi.” Seven men leave and Naru with Sarii follows. Once the men discover Naru, they use Sarii for tracking.
When they find Puhi, he is unconscious and the men chop off branches to make a stretcher while Naru uses her knowledge of herbs to help Puhi, including the yellow petals (totsi?). Naru wonders why is Puhi alive? Something must have scared the lion away and we don’t give credit to the male hunters for having similar knowledge of the forest. The party splits up with some of the men taking Puhi back. Naru is supposed to follow, but her dog alerts her to the carcass of a rattle snake that has been skinned. She also sees footprints that seem too big to be a bear.
Naru initially moves to return but decides to stay back and rejoins her brother and another warrior to hunt for the lion. The other warrior and Naru stay up in a tree, but are attacked by the lion. Naru falls and is knocked unconscious. Her brother has taken her back to the village and her mother tends to her. Her mother warns that the reason for the Kuhtaamia is not to hunt, but to survive.
When Taabe returns alone with the lion’s carcass, their mother is relieved and the others celebrate but Naru finds no joy in her brother becoming a war chief.
The next morning, Naru shirks her chores and with Sarii walks in the opposite direction of the other women. Into and out of the forest to where she finds that infamous florescent green blood that we know belongs to the alien Predator. She again finds the tracks and begins tracking the alien.
Weirdly, while tracking the Predator, Naru takes time out to try and kill a rabbit with a tomahawk. When she fails, she then improves upon her tomahawk. She kills about four rabbits and takes them with her, roasting them by nightfall. The next day, Naru goes through a forest and sees birds circling in the sky.
There’s a field of bison carcasses, but we don’t see the birds feeding on them. Or the bear that she meets later or any wolves.
Naru continues to track and finds a bear eating a dead deer. The wind shifts and still, Naru decides to shoot the bear. And the bear must not be that hungry because it leaves its meal and sniffs around and knows exactly how to get up to where Naru is. Naru could be running away, but tries to restring her bow. Her dog barks and doesn’t bait the bear, but simply runs away and the bear, despite being so close to what it was smelling (Naru), decides to pursue the moving object (Sarii). Naru runs after them, but Sarii then runs back and past Naru. At which point, Naru shoots an arrow and then takes refuge in a beaver dam. Sarii has disappeared, but luckily, the Predator saves Naru by slaughtering the bear. You might be asking, as we did, where is Sarii? Why doesn’t Naru run from the bear when she has the chance and look back at the bear from afar?
Naru then takes a trip down the river. Naru is found by three young male members of her tribe who are on foot. They are out searching for her. Her brother is searching in another area. The Predator finds them and the search party becomes the prey.
You might, like I did, have a few questions after seeing this film or you might want to prepare yourself for what you see. One question would be if you can kill a grizzly or any bear with a bow and arrow. Another would be if you can kill a rabbit with a tomahawk/axe. You might also wonder if the Native Americans in the Great Plains had dogs.
You can kill a bear with a bow and arrow, but it is risky business. The link above has a recommendation that you hit both lungs. Still the accounts I read had the hunter tracking the animal after it had been shot, waiting for it to die. Consider that a bow and arrow is actually a weapon best used at a distance and not when a raging grizzly is running toward you and your one dog. With so few dogs, one would think Naru would value her dog’s life more, even if she’s going to be foolish.
You can kill a rabbit with a tomahawk or axe. I’m not sure if that’s the most efficient way. According to the link below, snares and flushing were used and women might be in charge of catching them, but this differed from tribe to tribe.
The Native Americans did have dogs and in pre-horse North America, dogs were important and numerous.
- Domestication of Dogs and Their Use on the Great Plains
- Great Plains Indians
- American Indians and Their Dogs: A complex life of love, work and togetherness
- Pre-Columbian origins of Native American dog breeds, with only limited replacement by European dogs, confirmed by mtDNA analysis
- American Dog Breeds Hail From Pre-Columbian Times
- Comanche Indians
- God Dogs and Education: Comanche Traditional Cultural Innovation and Three Generations of Tippeconnic Men
According to “God Dogs and Education,” “Like most plains tribes who were nomadic peoples prior to the acquisition and widespread proliferation of the horse, the Comanche had once utilized dogs to haul their possessions and transport their goods.” The method used is the “travois,” similar to the Cheyenne and the Arapaho. However, not all the plains tribes treated dogs similarly.
The Cheyenne transformed from a farming culture to hunter-gatherers with the introduction of the horse. They had used dogs for transport as well. The Comanche called the Arapaho “Dog Eaters.” According to the website, “It is an English translation of the names for the Arapahos in the languages of neighboring tribes such as the Comanche (who called them Saretika, which literally means “they eat dogs.”) The Arapahos, like many Plains Indian tribes, did raise dogs as food animals, whereas it was taboo to eat dog meat in Comanche culture.”
- The History and Culture of the Cheyenne Tribe
- Cheyenne–Warriors of the Great Plains
- Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes
- Cheyenne Indian Fact Sheet
According to Ruth Callahan’s “Domestication of Dogs and Their Use on the Great Plains,” (1997), “in most historic tribes, women were considered the owners of the family dogs. They were the ones who normally used them for daily chores and it was their job to train them.”
Even when horses had arrived in the life of the Plains Native Americans, dogs continued to be important because they “served as an important source of security for every tribe on the Plains.” Callahan writes, “When strangers appeared near the village, the dogs would begin a deafening cacophony of barking that alerted everyone within hearing range. Many warriors, who had gone on raiding parties to obtain horses, mentioned the difficulty of avoiding the dogs in enemy camps. Great care had to be taken so the raiders’ presence would not be revealed by a sharp-eyed dog.”
How Animals Complicate and Create Plot Holes in ‘Prey’
We know there are wolves, bears, lions and birds of prey the area. We see a wild canid catching a rabbit and being slain by the Predator. Naru has a confrontation with a bear. What does that mean? It would not seem safe for a person, male or female, to go alone into the woods with one dog. Remember the first emergency is a young man, Puhi, taken by a lion. Why would they think one woman and a dog would be safe from a lion?
I also wondered about the wild canid hunting by itself. Why didn’t it have a mate or a pack? But one was enough to remind us of the dangers wolves might present. The presence of wolves also presents a clear danger at night to this Comanche community. I counted about three horses when I went back to look for them. I counted only two dogs. According to the links above, dogs were crucial to the life of the Great Plains tribes even when they had transformed into a horse culture. To hunt a mountain lion, one would think that horses and/or dogs would have been used, yet Taabe sets out without a dog and on foot. With so few horses, it would seem that more dogs would be needed for hauling things like branches for fires–or the women’s work that we see. Even with the presence of more horses, dogs would have helped protect the Comanche from wolves, lions and bears at night.
Because we only see Taabe on foot during the film, when he does have a battle using a horse (seen also in the trailer), it is jarring. It becomes obvious that Taabe is a skilled horseback warrior. Why is he then on foot, especially for the search party when Naru goes missing? If the other Comanche men have horses, then why aren’t they following the buffalo and why don’t they discover the slaughter of so many from signs like the circling carrion birds? Why aren’t those carrion-loving birds eating, it’s not like they have to wait to pull up a space. No other animal is there. Further, why aren’t the Comanche men with horses taking the opportunity to steal horses off of the voyageurs?
So I made some calculations. Naru walked for about a day, camped and then discovered the field of skinned bison.
According to the link above, “A trained walker can do a 26.2-mile marathon in eight hours or less, or walk 20 to 30 miles in a day. But the average person only walks 2 to 2.5 miles a day.” But lets say that Naru does 30 miles.
Now if there are horses, the issue becomes with a warring tribe and a tribe that is dependent upon the buffalo, why are the Comanche men not patrolling? They can certainly go farther than a person walking. According to the link above:
While horses traveled about 35 miles (56.5 km) daily in those times, most of them can travel only 25 miles (40 km) a day nowadays.
An average trail horse in decent shape can withstand a journey of 50 miles (80.5 km) in one day, while a fit endurance competitor will be able to travel even 100 miles (161 km) in a day.
A horse would travel roughly twice as far as Naru, and a horseback patrol should have been alerted to the French Voyageurs/fur traders. For an operation with that many men, who are slaughtering that many bison, they weren’t exactly on stealth mode.
We know the Comanche would eventually dominate the fur trading from the plains. “Because of their skills as traders, the Comanches controlled much of the commerce of the Southern Plains. They bartered buffalo products, horses, and captives for manufactured items and foodstuffs.” They would stop the invasion of the Spanish and the French. They were a formidable horse culture and both men and women rode horses according to the Texas State Historical Association. It’s troubling that the members of the male Comanche search party are characterized as so oblivious to the signs that Naru sees. Moreover, the fighting sequences between Naru and the men of her tribe and the Voyageurs doesn’t suggest a different style might be needed by someone who has less physical strength as a woman would.
Overall, I liked the cinematography and the general story concept, but I didn’t feel that Naru expressed a strong collective consciousness. That made her seem immature. She took unnecessary risks which resulted in deadly confrontations with the Predator and I’m not convinced that she showed the appropriate amount of regret, particularly compared to the original 1987 film, “Predator.” In “Predator,” the main character, Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is fooled into taking a mission by Dillon (Carl Weathers). Dillon tells him, “You’re an asset, an expendable asset.” Dutch states that “My men are not expendable. And I don’t do this kind of work.” At the end, Dutch has a poignant, world-weary gaze–he’s lost not only his friend Dillon who betrayed him, but all of his men.
Further, in “Predator,” all the men on the disastrous mission have distinctive personalities. In “Prey,” the young male warriors are mostly interchangeable foils for the main character, Naru. I get that except for Naru’s brother, the men overlook Naru’s warnings because her gender discredits her, but the best stories show everyone being able to contribute to the collective, even if it is from knowledge based on gender-specific responsibilities or idiosyncratic ways of thinking.
In “Prey,” the usage of animals, including the dog, Sarii, isn’t logical for a nomadic, hunting society and from what I gather, from the historic usage of dogs by the Native American tribes on the Great Plains. Sometimes, the absence of Sarii seems very convenient. The dog chases down a bear and then runs away from it, leaving Naru to defend herself? Was Sarii running back home to get Naru’s brother?
For this film review, I learned a lot about Native American culture, which is great. It was wonderful to see such a diversity in casting. The first film “Predator” did have a Native American actor (Sonny Landham as Billy Sole). From the very beginning, “Predator” had diversity in mind with a Latina (Elpidia Carrillo) and Latino (Richard Chaves), a Native American (Landham who was Cherokee and Seminole) and an African American (Weathers).
I didn’t have any qualms about how the Native American culture was presented, but I’m not an expert on Native American culture, however, the lack of character development of the other Native American characters besides Naru, Naru’s lack of transformation or remorse after the events and the logical problems connected to the animals detracted from the quality of this film.
“Prey” had its world premiere at the San Diego Comic-Con on 21 July 2022. It was released on Hulu on 5 August 2022. In Japan, it was released as: プレデター：ザ・プレイ (and in Taiwan: 終極戰士：獸獵者).