At The Movies: A woman warrior and her tribe fight the Predator in Prey

A movie still from Prey starring Amber Midthunder (centre). PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

Prey (M18)

100 minutes, premieres Aug 5 on Disney+, 4 stars

The story: This prequel to the Predator science-fiction action franchise (four films from 1987 to 2018) is set in North America in the 1700s. Young Comanche woman Naru (Amber Midthunder) yearns to attain the rank of elite hunter, but her people give that honour only to men. Despite this, she continues to train in weapons and the healing arts. Naru has a nasty encounter with a supernaturally powerful collector of animal and human heads, but no one believes her.

Two reasons to watch the fifth instalment in the Predator series:

1. A girl with smarts, instead of bros with guns

The Predator franchise is known for bloody violence, sardonic humour, military hardware and simple, standalone survival stories - cocky soldiers meet the Predator, they underestimate the alien, screams and falling body parts ensue.

This movie breaks the formula by replacing the bro cynicism with earnest pleas to save the tribe from annihilation.

This being 1719, the Comanche use their knowledge of the land to mount a defence. Naru witnesses the carnage and has a violent coming-of-age journey.

2. A sense of place and time

Visually, this movie's wash of tans and beiges is about as ravishing as a brown carpet.

It is unlike the adventure film The Last Of The Mohicans (1992), which was a feast for the eyes, or the survival drama The Revenant (2015), which had an epic scale. Both stories - set around the same time and place as Prey - had budgets that could make the wilderness look as lush or as severe as the directors wanted.

Instead, Prey's director Dan Trachtenberg (science-fiction thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane, 2016), working with fewer resources, keeps a focus on the Comanche people pitting their brains and warrior ethic against an enemy with god-like powers.

The film is also free of the cliches that sunk Cowboys & Aliens (2011), a Western with a concept similar to Prey's.

Thirteen Lives (PG13)

A movie still from Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures' Thirteen Lives. PHOTO: METRO GOLDWYN MAYER PICTURES


147 minutes, premieres Aug 5 on Amazon Prime Video, 4 stars

The story: This dramatisation of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue in northern Thailand traces the event from the beginning when the Wild Boars youth football team and their coach hike into the 10km-long cave. A downpour floods the system, trapping the team inside. Government officials take over. The Thai Navy Seal team arrives. British cave divers Richard Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) are called in. With the help of Australian diver and anaesthetist Richard Harris (Joel Edgerton), a risky extraction plan is devised.

Two reasons to watch this re-enactment from director Ron Howard:

1. It does not ignore the Thai effort

There was wide media coverage of the efforts made by the Thais to support the rescue, such as farmers giving permission for their fields to be drowned by water pumped from the caves, the army of volunteers racing to construct drainage systems in the pelting rain and ordinary citizens showing up to volunteer as labourers.

Howard's story makes sure to highlight these contributions. The Buddhist faith of the Thais is made prominent.

The secretive nature of the Thai Seals made it difficult at the time to address their presence, but this movie shows just how vital their work had been.

There is a behind-the-scenes look at how, after the boys had been found alive, the divers' mood of elation lasted only a short time, because a corpse retrieval mission would have been hard but doable, while a rescue seemed impossible. How could they move the boys through kilometres of twisty, narrow caverns filled with raging currents?

2. It gets to the emotional core of the operation

If you want a breakdown of the "how they did it" question, turn to the gripping documentary The Rescue (2021, available on Disney+), which includes interviews with Volanthen and Stanton, complete with maps of the cave.

But if you want to sense the mood in the room when Harris (Edgerton) describes his last-ditch plan, feel the power of the faithful gathered in prayer, step into the shoes of parents awaiting news in the tent city, or know the boys' reaction when rescue divers tell them the time has come for the extraction, this movie has those covered.

Even if you know how it ended, it is a ride that should leave viewers emotionally wrung out.

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