Review: Catch this ‘Prey’ on Hulu. ‘Lightyear,’ ‘Luck’ and more in our new streaming movies roundup
The original 1987 “Predator” movie is sublimely simple, stripping down a science-fiction and action premise to its rawest elements, with just a grizzled band of military commandos squaring off against a super-strong, heavily equipped hunter from outer space. Later films (and comics, novels and video games) have expanded the mythology surrounding the Predator species itself, but the core of each of these stories has always been the battle of wits and strength between an alien monster and the people it’s trying to kill.
The prequel “Prey” is the franchise’s best installment since the first, because director Dan Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison seem to understand that what makes a “Predator” picture exciting is watching grossly overmatched humans figure out how to stop the unstoppable. “Prey” is set 300 years ago on colonial America’s Great Plains and has as its hero the underdog of all underdogs: a Comanche warrior named Naru (Amber Midthunder), who has only a few primitive weapons to use against the Predator’s high-tech armory.
After just a little bit of setup — establishing that Naru likes to hunt and fight — “Prey” gets straight to the action, as the heavily camouflaged Predator starts tracking and killing in ways that initially suggest maybe a ferocious animal or some local French trappers are to blame. Once Naru gets a glimpse of her true enemy — during a thrilling sequence that also sees her dashing through a creek and dodging a bear — she quickly has to learn how the alien operates so she can find its weakness and protect her tribe.
“Prey” has a refreshingly compact running time, and unlike a lot of modern action movies, much of it takes place in the well-lighted, colorful daytime rather than in the visually bland, murky night. There’s even some thematic resonance here, as Trachtenberg and Aison parallel the Predator’s hunt with the French trappers’ encroachment on Comanche land. Mostly though, “Prey” works because the filmmakers don’t overcomplicate it. A “Predator” story should have well-crafted and excitingly staged scenes of humans fighting an alien. This picture has plenty.
“Prey.” Rated R for strong bloody violence. 1 hour, 39 minutes. Available on Hulu
The production company Skydance makes its first foray into animation with “Luck,” a family-friendly comic fantasy directed by Peggy Holmes and shepherded in part by former Pixar boss John Lasseter. Eva Noblezada voices Sam, a chronically unlucky human who has a chance encounter with a mystically powered cat named Bob (Simon Pegg). When Sam follows Bob, she discovers entire magical realms that generate good and bad luck — and she figures if she can get her hands on a lucky penny from the Good Luck realm, she can turn her whole life around.
“Luck” looks amazing, especially once Sam and Bob pass through a portal into the lands of luck. In the Good Luck realm in particular, everything moves like clockwork, in ways that are incredibly visually appealing — akin to Pixar classics like “Monsters Inc.” and “Inside Out,” which also turned abstract concepts into habitable spaces.
But Holmes and her team here have wildly overestimated how fascinating the hierarchies and codes in these fantastical kingdoms are. Very quickly, “Luck” becomes less of a story about Sam’s problems — or even about the delicate interconnectedness of fortune and fate in a person’s life — and more about the heroine messing things up and having to perform a series of tedious tasks to restore order. The enchanting setting becomes a backdrop to action that’s dispiritingly mundane.
“Luck.” Rated G. 1 hour, 45 minutes. Available on Apple TV+
The “/“ in the middle of the title of “They/Them” is meant to be read aloud as “slash,” as in “They slash them” — a slasher movie in which the victims defy conventional gender roles. Kevin Bacon plays Owen Whistler, the outwardly cool head honcho of a wilderness camp that promises to “convert” LGBTQ kids … although Owen tells these youngsters he really only wants them to be their truest, happiest selves. Then a masked killer starts rampaging, and what had been an existential struggle — by young people fighting to retain their identities — becomes more visceral.
The Oscar- and Tony-nominated screenwriter John Logan makes his directorial debut with “They/Them,” and frankly, his prestige drama pretensions keep this movie from being as punchy and trashy as the films it’s riffing on (like “Friday the 13th” and “Sleepaway Camp”). The cast is terrific, the dialogue is snappy, and Logan has the kernel of a great idea here, connecting the teenage slaughter that fills most slashers to the real-world cruelty of conversion camps. But “They/Them” never connects on a gut level, as a horror movie should. It’s too somber and plodding — a “message movie” delivered in a drab package.
‘They/Them.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 42 minutes. Available on Peacock
‘Gone in the Night’
Winona Ryder gives an outstanding performance in “Gone in the Night,” a moody mystery co-written and directed by Eli Horowitz, one of the creators of the podcast and TV series “Homecoming.” Ryder plays Kath, a middle-aged florist who’s on a trip to a remote cabin with her younger boyfriend Max (John Gallagher Jr.) when he unexpectedly disappears, perhaps at the hands of the even younger hipster couple Greta (Brianne Tju) and Al (Owen Teague), who were at the property when they arrived. Irritated — but not entirely surprised — Kath teams up with the cabin’s owner, the reclusive tech guru Nicholas (Dermot Mulroney), to figure out what’s going on.
Horowitz and co-writer Matthew Derby get too cutesy with the structure of “Gone in the Night,” which begins with the events leading up to Max’s disappearance and then splinters into two through-lines: one in the present, as Kath and Nicholas investigate; and one in the past, as we learn that Max secretly had an existing relationship with Greta and Al. The fractured narrative isn’t confusing, but it isn’t revelatory either. After a while — until a big twist toward the end — Horowitz and Derby just seem to be painstakingly fitting together pieces that the audience could easily connect on its own.
Still, even when the story doesn’t pop, Ryder is terrific. “Gone in the Night” is ultimately a story about subtle generational conflicts, as boomers, millennials and Gen Zers jostle with one another over who is the most relevant. Ryder is perfectly cast as a typical Gen Xer, who observes all these machinations with an amusingly wry wariness, knowing from experience that when the dust settles, she’s sure to be overlooked yet again.
“Gone in the Night.” Rated R for language throughout and brief bloody images. 1 hour, 30 minutes. Available on VOD
‘What Josiah Saw’
The Southern gothic psychodrama “What Josiah Saw” takes a novelistic approach to a story about old ghosts. Screenwriter Robert Alan Dilts and director Vincent Grashaw break their narrative into pieces, making what amounts to one short film about a cantankerous old man (Robert Patrick) and the strange son (Scott Haze) he lives with on a haunted Texas farm, one about a sleazy crook (Nick Stahl) forced by a mob boss to take part in a heist at a traveling carnival, and one about a stressed-out suburbanite (Kelli Garner) trying to adopt a child with her sad-sack husband (Tony Hale). The fourth and final part brings together these characters — all related to one another — to confront their disturbing past.
These individual segments are often unpleasant to watch but are also utterly absorbing — provided you have a high tolerance for human misery. The concluding chapter ties up everything a bit too neatly; nevertheless, there’s something satisfying about spending so much time with these people on their own and then seeing them united. Dilts and Grashaw build out “What Josiah Saw” thoughtfully, letting the dread from one story bleed into the next, until everything is covered in a dark, dark stain.
‘What Josiah Saw.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 59 minutes. Available on Shudder
Also on VOD
“Lightyear” isn’t really a “Toy Story” movie. It’s meant to be the science-fiction blockbuster within the “Toy Story” universe that introduced the world to the Buzz Lightyear character (and in turn inspired Andy’s second-favorite toy). Chris Evans voices the Space Ranger, who has his confidence shaken when a strange adventure on a distant planet goes awry. Available on Disney+ and VOD
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“Waiting: The Van Duren Story” is a documentary about a Memphis, Tenn., power-pop act that emerged in the wake of the cult favorite band Big Star in the 1970s and then quickly faded into obscurity. It’s a twisty tale about how even incredibly talented musicians and songwriters can be undone by bad breaks and the harsh realities of the music industry. MVD
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