I understand that Predator is a classic, man on a mission-style action film that is a bona fide classic in the minds and hearts of many. If you go on YouTube, you will find no shortage of talking heads telling you that Predator, as a film, is a master class. This 1987 film is the archetypal Schwarzenegger flick, showing the world what the inside of a can of whoop-ass looks like. Predator is a classic action film that is nearly flawless in its execution. But at its heart, it’s a horror film as well. It takes a few muscle bound heroes and kicks the shit out of them with a seven-foot tall alien for nearly two hours. Predator was one of the first films I can remember seeing, and it both thrilled me and scared me all at the same time.
This film turns the action genre on its head by slowly introducing a series antagonist that is much more capable than the hero of the given film. The beauty of this movie is it does what any good horror film should do. It sets up the heroes and throws them against a nearly insurmountable adversary that will push them past their physical and mental limits. Within the first twenty minutes of Predator, you see Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team of fellow mercenaries systematically (and easily) take down a small army of Central American Guerilla soldiers. Fresh from the victory, the audience is then shown that they are being surveyed, nay, stalked, by something that can see them but can’t be seen. Using the trees as tactical advantage, the titular Predator begins to meticulously and mercilessly execute each member of Dutch’s seven-man team until there is but one man left standing.
Predator is a great flick, but it also happens to defy its own genre by taking away the power fantasy that is typical in an action film. As a character, the Predator is merely a person on safari. At the time of the film’s release, nobody knew that the Predator was part of a space-faring race of warriors that used Xenomorphs as training dummies for newbie hunters. No one was aware of the blood feuds within a much larger Predator race, or of the intergalactic travels and crossovers with Batman. All we saw was a massively imposing threat that looked at our strongest and bravest human specimens as trophies to be earned. The Predator is an unwavering figure that can’t be bargained with, a force of nature that is not too dissimilar from Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. If you take away the physical stature of the creature and its character motivations, you are still left with an unrelenting force with a blade that is trying to kill you.
I spoke earlier about how the Predator defies the action movie genre by taking away the power fantasy we live out vicariously through our hero, the Final “Girl,” Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dutch is a great example of what a lot of men want to be like. He’s a tall, broad and confident, a guy who remains focused under pressure and smart enough to make crack decisions when needed. Not only is he an amazing physical specimen, he’s also incredibly loyal to his team. He rarely curses, he never tries to intimidate anyone, and he hardly ever acts aggressively towards people that don’t deserve it, save for the one time he lashes out against his friend, Dillon (Carl Weathers), who, in a roundabout way, betrays his team. But when faced with the Predator, Dutch is immediately outranked by a stronger, faster and more advanced individual… one that, in a straight up fist fight, could potentially kill him in a single blow.
Predator is an incredibly tense film that shows off the hard truth… no matter how strong or physically capable you are, there is always someone out there that is better. It reminds us that sometimes you can have all the technology, fire power and tactical advancement that you want, but if you forget the basic tools that got you to where you are, you’re going to have your spine ripped out by a seven-foot tall alien with dreadlocks. This film may have spun off a franchise of debatable quality, but with its first effort, it shows that you may never truly be alone. You never know who – or what – may be staring back at you when you look out your window at night. If you’re ever taking a leisurely stroll through a wooded path, take a moment and look up and pray that nothing is there looking down at you.