Sarah Schachner’s score for Prey pretty perfectly balances moody, malevolent tension and grandiose, upbeat adventure in a thoroughly enjoyable soundtrack experience, with her use of string instrumentation in particular being simply, utterly gorgeous. The score is let down slightly by a general (but not entire) lack of iconic Predator themes, though the introduction of several exquisite new ones, particularly Naru’s, do really help to make up for this.
Prey is quite a unique approach, both stylistically and thematically, to a Predator score. The album is primarily strings-based, with composer Sarah Schachner herself having apparently played many of the featured strings throughout the score, which I feel adds a certain level of authenticity that you wouldn’t normally get which is pretty great to see (and hear!). Of course though before we really get into Schacher’s work here, the biggest question with this and really any sequel score where the original featured some pretty iconic motifs is; does Prey utilise Alan Silvestri’s classic Predator themes? The answer? In a way yes it does, but if you’re coming here expecting full thematic performances à la John Debney’s score for Predators, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. Let’s take this opportunity then to talk about opening cue “Predator Instinct”, as it’s here that any and all Predator themes, both old and new, feature most prominently.
Like with most cues on this soundtrack album, this piece is very strings-focused, with some quietly moody, heavy strings in particular (I want to say a double bass, but not being an expert on musical instrumentation I could well be wrong) opening the piece while slowly fading into view, playing a darkly altered but still sort of recognisable variation of Silvestri’s classic six-note, originally percussive Predator motif (see 01:10 from his “Main Title” from the original Predator score for an example of it). Schachner’s take on the motif here though is a clear attempt to modernise & experiment with the classic theme, which while I have to say does fit rather well with the much darker (tonally) film and score, does also warp it to the point where it is barely recognisable as the classic theme, which kind of defeats the point (for me, anyway). If you’re having to hunt for and strain to hear a theme, then it’s not really doing it’s job, surely? Certainly I had to listen through this opening cue more than a few times to actually hear Silvestri’s classic motif, and while it is certainly there, themes are supposed to be clear and recognisable, that’s literally the reason they exist.
I won’t criticise this thematic approach too much as like I say it does fit well with the film, but I do feel the six-note Predator theme could’ve been used a little better here, especially as it seems to be pretty much the only aspect of Silvestri’s original 1987 score that recurs in Prey – none of the other major themes seem to reprise, bar a very brief appearance of one that I’ll get into later on – which is a bit of a shame given that I reckon some of them would have fit in rather well with Schachner’s style here. Still, with that all said we can move on to what Prey, more specifically this opening cue “Predator Instinct”, does have. With the darkly altered six-note Predator theme acting as moodily malevolent backing strings, Schachner then introduces a brand new theme, specifically for the Feral Predator that features throughout the new film. It can be heard starting at 00:09 in this track, and much like the classic theme it’s a moody, ominous motif that does a pretty excellent job in conveying the danger and ever-present, powerfully alien threat that the Predator is. Both this motif and the warped original six-note piece then play in strings-based tandem throughout this three minute opening track, setting a very tensely ominous mood for the beginning of the album.
With all things thematically Predator now firmly established, action kicks the score properly into gear with the short “Thrill Of The Chase”, with loudly dramatic percussion and increasingly worrisome strings taking prominence for much of the sub-minute cue. “Naru and Surii” then lightly hints toward another new theme, this time for Native American protagonist Naru, played by Amber Midthunder. Gentle strings and wistful woodwinds are the instrumental focus in this sadly short piece, but it does help to inject an enjoyable element of hope into the otherwise fairly moody score this has been so far. “Beyond The Great Plains” then happily takes this hope and runs with it, with some rather tribal-sounding percussion and loud, proudly optimistic strings taking centre stage for this wondrously longer and enjoyably grander piece. The tone however then shifts focus back into tension with “Five Senses”, with the tribal percussion reprising alongside now worried strings notes, which after a minute or so then lead straight into subsequent action piece “The Night Has Ears”. Here anxiety continues to build for the opening minute, before a burst of loudly aggressive strings and dramatic drums then enter the fray as Naru goes toe-to-toe with a mountain lion in the film. The action doesn’t last for too long here (only about a minute) but what there is is very loud and imposing, setting a particularly anxious stage for later on.
Vocals are the centrepiece of short, subsequent piece “Communion”, a cue that leans heavily into the Native American side of the score with mysterious-sounding strings and the aforementioned wistful vocals. Next cue “Naru’s Way” is actually tied for standout cue of the score (standing alongside the opening “Predator Instinct”) as it features the new theme for the character in enjoyably full form for the first time, played by some pretty gorgeous instrumentation. The motif plays first on quietly hopeful, upbeat strings before additional, backing strings then join the fray and the theme starts to rise, instilling a grand sense of adventure and optimism as the instruments then simply go all out, making for some of the most enjoyable minutes on the entire album as a result. A rumble of tribal percussion then opens “Flesh And Bone”, with worrisome strings setting quite a tense tone during the opening minute or so. The instrumentation then continues to build in both volume and intensity over the course of the track’s three minute runtime, coming to a loudly dramatic crescendo just as the piece draws to a close. Sub-minute pair “Orange Totsiyaa” and “Moon Wanderer” then once again harken back to the Native American side side of the score – with the latter cue also hinting toward Naru’s theme – before “The Onslaught” then leads the score back into dramatic darkness.
The track begins with fast-paced tribal drums setting a frenetic pace, with the Feral Predator motif then dramatically and ferociously crossing into the fray on a burst of ominous strings. Tense strings and increasingly in-your-face percussion then take the forefront for much of the next minute or so before the Feral Predator motif then loudly returns to finish things off in the final seconds of the piece. “Trapped” then sets a worrisome ambience for its first two minutes, before increasingly high-pitched strings join the music in the back half, bringing the track overall after some build-up to a particularly worried, almost horror-like crescendo. “Foolish Foray” then utilises a heartbeat-like take on percussion throughout its almost three minute runtime, which overall does a pretty excellent and rather bone-chilling job of instilling and building tension alongside moody strings and additional backing percussion throughout the entire cue. “The Cruel Delight” however then picks up the pace, with loudly emphatic strings and anxious backing percussion occupying the opening minute until the Feral Predator motif makes a very brief, malevolent appearance at the halfway point, and the music then reacts to this with an increase of volume and intensity right up until cue’s end.
The opening of the subsequent “Horseback Ambush” cue is very interesting as I think it actually reprises another of Silvestri’s classic Predator motifs, more specifically the fading, ominous percussion that plays whenever the Predator moves invisibly around the jungle in the original film. It is very subtle here though, listen to the first few seconds of “Something Else” from the original 1987 score, then the first few seconds of “Horseback Ambush” here and see what you think. With the kinda-maybe Silvestri reference fading fast, the Feral Predator motif then returns in loud action form for the lengthy action portion of this cue, with deafeningly tense, fast-paced strings and emphatic percussion leading the charge for pretty much the entire rest of the track. “Human Bait” is then an exercise in building ambience for the most part, with the Feral Predator motif only entering the fray right toward the end, leading right into its final battle with Naru in “Brave Girl”. This five minute action setpiece starts off anxious and worried as villainous strings take the forefront, with the Feral Predator motif seemingly initially having the upper hand until Naru’s theme then bursts rather heroically into frame at the three minute minute, and the Feral Predator motif finally meets its end a minute or so later. “Seeing With New Eyes” then reprises the more hopeful, tribal side of the score from “Beyond The Great Plains” to close the book on that side of the story, but it’s “The Hunter” that finishes Naru’s, providing a very rapid, main-on-end rendition of the now much more warrior-like Naru’s theme, overall bringing the entire score full circle on a particularly tense note.
Overall, Sarah Schachner’s score for Prey is very different indeed to what you’d probably expect from a Predator score, but that’s what makes it so interesting. It’s a very heavily strings-focused experience, with tribal percussion and woodwinds mixed in too but mainly acting as background instruments for the sheer power that the strings deliver. Apparently Sarah Schachner herself plays the strings recorded here, and fair play to her as they sound absolutely phenomenal throughout the entire album, especially during its more hopeful, upbeat sections. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the standout thematic element of Prey here – Naru’s theme. It starts out as a gently optimistic motif which then slowly builds into adventurous grandeur (see Standout Cue “Naru’s Way”) as Naru journeys across the Great Plains and then dramatic warrior-like heroism (“Brave Girl”) as she goes toe-to-toe with the Feral Predator itself. Thematically the alien creature is also well-represented, with its own new theme playing malevolently across the score, but it’s “Predator Instinct” where it gets its best rendition alongside a heavily experimental, much darker performance of Alan Silvestri’s classic six note Predator piece.
This brings me though to honestly the only big criticism I have of Schachner’s work here, in that I do feel the classic Predator themes could have been used a bit more, and a bit better too. Silvestri’s six-note percussive motif for the iconic aliens appears basically once on the entire album (which is odd because it recurs quite a few times in the film) and even then it plays so differently that it’s barely recognisable as itself, which for me kind of defeats the point of reprising a theme – it’s supposed to be a clearly recognisable musical representation of a character or setting, which this just isn’t unless you are really listening for it like I was. Silvestri’s other Predator themes are a bit missed here as well, which is a shame as I think they could have fit quite nicely with Shachner’s tense, strings-heavy style, even just in passing. Like I say though this is the only major issue I have with the score for Prey, as everything else – new themes, instrumentation and style – is absolutely sublime. The strings are gorgeous, Naru’s theme and the overall atmosphere are amazing, and the way the composer perfectly balances anxious tension and upbeat adventure throughout the album truly is something to behold.
Seriously, check out “Naru’s Way” if you haven’t already. Just *chef’s kiss*.
Standout Cue: 8. Naru’s Way
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