Set in the Comanche Nation 300 years ago, Prey is the story of a young woman, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled warrior. She has been raised in the shadow of some of the most legendary hunters who roam the Great Plains, so when danger threatens her camp, she sets out to prove herself a worthy hunter. The prey she stalks, and ultimately confronts, turns out to be a highly evolved alien Predator with a technically advanced arsenal, resulting in a vicious and terrifying showdown between the two adversaries.
In celebration of the next chapter in the story, Disney held a press conference with the stars and creators behind Prey, including Amber Midthunder (Naru), Dakota Beavers (Taabe), Dan Trachtenberg (Director) and Jhane Myers (Producer).
The “Predator” franchise began with the 1987 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by John McTiernan. The story of an elite team of mercenaries sent to the jungles of South America on a recovery mission who find themselves hunted by an extraterrestrial warrior with an arsenal of high-tech weapons, the film was a hit and spawned five subsequent films.
Director Dan Trachtenberg was a big fan of the original film. “I was in third grade when the first one came out, and I have a very vivid memory of not being allowed to see the movie and being in the car on the way to a karate tournament with all the boys who had all just seen the film and described the entire movie to me on the way to the tournament,” he explains.
“One of the things that stuck out as they described it to me, there was a scene where Billy, the Native American scout, stood his ground on a bridge over a waterfall and fought the Predator. Eventually, when I saw the movie, that scene didn’t happen. He cuts himself and then screams, and it’s all off-camera. That bit that I had imagined wasn’t actually in the movie, but is very much the genesis of this movie, Prey, now.”
“I started developing this maybe a year after “10 Cloverfield Lane” came out and the last movie came out in theaters. Then, the Fox-Disney merger happened, and all of those things really delayed this from getting going. But the main inspiration behind it was sort of a confluence of a couple things. One was really wanting to make a movie that was primarily action-driven, mainly told visually, but not wanting to that just be fun, just be a good time, to want to inject that with heart and emotion.”
“What if the story could focus on characters that normally are not the heroes of the movie that they’re in? So that, the watching of the movie could be linked to the experience that the characters go through. What if we focused a movie on a different kind of character? So, all of that sort of swirled and came together into the genesis of this movie.”
In the film, the alien Predator lands his spacecraft in The Northern Great Plains in 1719, looking to hunt for sport. The land is inhabited by men, women, and children of the Comanche tribe, many of them skilled hunters and warriors themselves and the Prey filmmakers were committed to creating a film that provides an accurate portrayal of the Comanche world at the height of the Comanche Empire and brings a level of authenticity that rings true to the experience of its Indigenous peoples. As a result, the cast is comprised almost entirely of Native and First Nation’s talent.
Beginning with Patrick Aison and Dan Trachtenberg’s original story idea, the production worked closely with Comanche educator and consultant Juanita Pahdopony. The Comanche language is incorporated into the film with the characters’ names, which are all Comanche.
According to producer Jhane Myers, “We did extensive amounts of historical research and studied their customs and period-appropriate dialogue and sign language.”
“When Amber and Dakota did their first auditions, we had them audition in Comanche. So, from the wonderful insight of Dan, he always had asked if that was a possibility. I said absolutely. For me being Native and being an enrolled Comanche tribal member, that’s what’s really important because we never, as an audience goer ever seen a feature fully in my language. I’m a big movie fan. I grew up on the Predator franchise and one thing we do as native people when we watch films, we watch to see if maybe they can just at least get one or two things right that’s authentic?”
“This movie, just being a Predator film, it’s filled with authenticity. So, for me to have the language in there, that was most important, and we even pitched it that way, right Dan, to the studio. But you know, but now when you do watch it on Hulu, you have the option of picking Comanche to watch a fully dubbed version in Comanche.”
Amber agreed, “Dan made a story that is extremely wild and exciting with great human elements. There’s different people and different things to connect to that make you feel very human. He infused that with having Comanche culture. We took this movie to the Comanche Nation before releasing it or showing it to anybody because, it was important the people feel proud of it.”
Amber chimed in with: “This is the first time upon release, that a film will be released in a native language. Star Wars and Finding Nemo have gone back, and they’ve dubbed in Navajo. This is the first time on-release a film is being released in a native language which is really cool. Obviously, it’s the native language to the people in the film and it’s cool for also visibility. That’s so important is everybody wants to feel like they have something to relate to, everybody wants to feel like they have something where they feel seen, right? I think that’s what is really beautiful about our movie. Our movie is very fun and very exciting, and all the incredible things.”
“I’m so happy that we got to dub it in Comanche, which we got all the original actors to do themselves, which you don’t normally get to do. So that was just wicked fun and just to have that for preservation of the language, so kids can go back and watch it in the future. It’ll be something fun they can use to learn the language. I just think it was awesome,” said Dakota.
Amber Midthunder was cast as Naru (nah-doo), a fierce and highly skilled Comanche warrior raised in the shadow of the legendary hunters who roamed the Great Plains. When danger threatens her camp, she sets out to protect her band and faces the supreme test when the prey she stalks and ultimately confronts turns out to be an alien Predator. Smart, confident, and resourceful, she is familiar with every inch of the surrounding landscape and its natural predators.
Naru means “fight” in Comanche, which is more than appropriate for this character. “Naru is a fighter, she is strong,” says Amber. “She has strong ideas and opinions about things, about her future, about her life. Her wants are quite different than other people would assign to her or imagine for her.”
Getting cast in the film has been especially memorable for Amber, who says, “I’m Sahiya Nakoda, so to film on Nakoda land was a really cool experience for me. To be there, and to be near people who are my tribe or who are from tribes similar to mine, has been an amazing experience. I felt the responsibility of representing the Comanche people in terms of being a warrior…it is a strong warrior society. I had the opportunity to talk to a group of Comanche youth, and they really wanted to be represented on screen as Comanche strong.”
“The movie was, I would say, entirely physical. We did a four-week Boot Camp, Dakota, and I, and the other boys in the movie all did a four-week camp before we started shooting. It had weapons training; Comanche-style archery, spears, tomahawks. The stunt team was there, they were putting together the fights. We would all go work for them. We also had a personal trainer, but the scariest thing was the river. The idea of live water, it’s both very exciting to me and also terrifying. It was summertime, but it was glacial runoff water, it was so cold.”
Taabe, a young Comanche warrior, is played by newcomer Dakota Beavers. The young actor is a descendant of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. “This film takes place at a time when the Comanche people were in full stride. It was a totally unique take that I thought was really fascinating.”
Making her film debut, Dakota, looks back at her audition with glee. “It was absolutely mental. I didn’t even know what it was until I really went there and did the audition or the screen test or whatever. I had seen the first one. I thought it was, wicked, but I hadn’t like watched it habitually and when I figured out it was a Predator movie, I was kind of afraid to watch them because I didn’t want to psych myself out. Dan told me I got the part and then I just went and watched them all again. I was like, ‘oh, my gosh, this is pretty insane.’ I mean, I’m mind blown forever.”
Throughout the movie’s development, Dan worked closely with StudioADI founders Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis, to create the Predator costume. While fans of the previous films may notice some similarities in the alien’s design, this costume is quite unique. Dan explains, “One of the things we wanted to do with the creature in this movie was make it look much more creature-like. I adore the design of the original Predator and think that’s one of the reasons why this franchise still exists, but I really wanted our Predator to feel much more alien and a little scarier.”
Dan continues, “There was a very tricky balance in needing to make this movie feel like it is 300 years prior to the original, but also still feeling like it’s very technologically advanced. They devised this bone mask that feels more ancient and archaic and more brutal, but still interweaving organic and tact to feel cool and imposing.”
Because the design of this creature has especially captured fans’ imaginations since the 1987 film, there continues to be an eagerness to see it on screen again. Dan continues to explain the similarities and differences, saying, “The Predator still has his code of looking for the strongest threat, the worthiest opponent, but hunts with earlier versions of weapons we had seen before. He has the laser targeting, but instead of having the plasma cannon that explodes, he’s shooting these heat-seeking cross bolts. He has the E.N.D., the explosive net device, the net ball that he throws, the cut clamp, and the shield.”
However, “Most of [what viewers see is practical effects. Some of it is CG. I have a different point of view than I think most horror filmmakers or people that have worked and even fans. I’m not someone who thinks CG is awful, and I fetishize practical visual effects and all those and suit work and all those things.”
To inhabit the costume, the filmmakers found their Predator in former professional basketball player turned actor Dane DiLiegro. He was an enormous, menacing figure in the costume with his 6’9”, 245 lbs. frame, although out of costume, he wasn’t just the guy wearing the suit. DiLiegro loves filmmaking and storytelling and actively shared ideas of the creature’s back story, intelligence, and even emotions the alien experienced, adding more character and depth to the Predator.
Amber recalls seeing the Predator in costume for the first time on set, saying, “Truly the Predator is hard to look at. The first time I saw him, he was moving in the woods. I actually just walked up to him, and something happened to me. I was captured by the sight, but at the same time was trying to determine if I could kill him for real. To see the craftsmanship of it is so amazing. Just to run the head, it takes four people. There’s a mechanic had to move it. It was so amazing just to see in person.”
“There’s a scene, the first time Taabe sees the Predator and he just leans in. You see this six eight, dude in the suit and he’s all decked out. They got stuff sprayed all over him, so it looks real. He’s walking through the fog and you’re just like, ‘holy crap, this is good.’ Man, I’m glad I don’t have to act to a guy in a spandex suit,” said Dakota.
Prey will debut on August 5 exclusively on Hulu in the U.S, Star Plus in Latin America, and Disney Plus under the Star banner in all other territories.