Dan Trachtenberg was still developing his action movie brainchild “Prey,” a 1700s-set take on the “Predator” franchise, when he was informed that the film would be the first entry in the storied action series to debut outside of theaters.
The filmmaker first gave his pitch for “Prey” to 20th Century Fox hot off the heels of his 2016 directorial debut, “10 Cloverfield Lane” — a critically beloved, post-apocalyptic potboiler that flipped a modest production budget into a $110 million haul at the global box office. While Trachtenberg’s take on “Predator” initially drew enthusiasm, the project fell to the wayside as The Walt Disney Company began its acquisition of 20th Century Fox. Once the dust settled, the fate of “Prey” changed, from a wide theatrical release to a straight-to-streaming bow.
“After the merger happened, that was when discussion of it coming to Hulu started,” Trachtenberg told Variety.
But the director wasn’t going to let a less glamorous distribution plan prevent him from putting out all the stops on the period details and bloody violence of “Prey.”
“We made the movie with the intent of making it a giant cinematic theatrical experience,” Trachtenberg said. “I’ve worked in a lot of television where we’re always boxed in the format we have to work in. That was not the case here.”
“Prey” thoughtfully shifts the dynamic of “Predator” to the Great Plains, at a time when some Native Americans still live untouched by encroaching colonial forces. A Comanche woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder) is hungry to prove her abilities as a hunter, but she gets more of a fight than she bargained for when a deadly dreadlocked alien makes contact and begins to hunt for sport.
The stripped-down premise naturally lends itself to the hunter-becoming-hunted dynamic of “Predator,” while also carrying a completely new locale and mood for the series. Although Fox was already developing Shane Black’s “The Predator” at the time (which was released in 2018), Trachtenberg believed his creative approach to the franchise would be strong enough to stand on its own film.
“Part of why it’s called ‘Prey’ is because I felt like it would allow it to function similar to what ‘Star Wars’ was doing; there were these offshoots like ‘Rogue One’ and ‘Solo.’ I knew that Shane’s movie was meant to be the start of something new. I didn’t want them to just say no because they had those plans,” Trachtenberg explained. “There’ve been some movies that have been original ideas of mine that have been very hard to push up the mountain; this one moved very quickly, I think largely because this story is so pure and elemental — very uncomplicated. You can kind of see how it can work immediately.”
To authentically render the film’s Comanche heroes, Trachtenberg enlisted the help of producer Jhane Myers, a member of both the Comanche and Blackfeet nations.
“I grew up on ‘Predator’ and I like action,” Myers said. “I don’t like the love stories and all that. So I was really thrilled that Dan picked me to work alongside him to be able to tweak the Native aspects and to add our culture.”
Native representation runs deeper than casting in “Prey.” The production consulted with a Pueblo musician to create wind and drum sounds with authentic instruments. A Native artist was recruited to create animations for the end credits, which unfold in the style of traditional Plains hide art. An internship program allowed young First Nations people to receive industry experience. Myers herself crafted a cradleboard seen in the film.
“Native research and Native involvement impacts everything from start to finish,” Myers said.
The dedication to a Native perspective extends to the use of language in “Prey,” which deliberately omits the inclusion of subtitles when a band of French fur trappers appears in the story. The film remains with Naru’s position by sharing in her confusion.
Additionally, while the dialogue between the Native characters was filmed in English, a Comanche language audio track will be available to Hulu viewers.
“You need to watch it in Comanche first for culture,” Myers advised. “You have to watch it twice.”
“Prey” debuts exclusively on Hulu on Friday.