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The importance of “Prey” doing the right thing by the dog, Sarii

First, a major spoiler: the dog lives.

“Prey,” the Hulu Originals movie, has breathed life into the “Predator” franchise. A prequel to the previous four films about malicious trophy-hunting aliens, it is set in 1719 on the Northern Great Plains. It centers on a young Comanche hunter and tracker named Naru (Amber Midthunder), determined to become a warrior and protect the tribe from her, whether it be from big cats, white men, or a threat from space cloaked in invisibility. Importantly, the movie has also featured a cute dog.

Naru’s almost constant companion, Sarii (Coco), is a breed known as the Carolina Dog. Tan in color with large, perky ears, breeds like the Sarii don’t have the highest “level of training,” according to the American Kennel Club, and Midthunder would agree, describing his canine co-star as “a bit of a hot mess.” .

but she is our disorder. Coco as Sarii is serious, believable and endearing. We need a female lead like the incredibly attractive Midthunder. We need a dog. And we need the dog to do it.

Since the beginning of the movie, the dogs have been there. A dog steals the limelight in Thomas Edison’s 1894 film “Athlete with Wand,” simply sleeping and seeming uninterested. A stray dog ​​appears alongside the action in the Lumière brothers’ “Le Faux cul-de-jatte.” Random stray dogs wandering on set were apparently not uncommon.

But like the damsels, even from the start dogs are often distressed. In “Dog Factory” from 1904, dogs are turned into sausages, although we don’t see the terrible act. Fast-forward over a hundred years, and endangering dogs and cats is still a major plot element. RIP, Mews from “Stranger Things”; We barely knew you. And that’s the point: Oftentimes, an animal’s death serves as easy shorthand for a character’s cruelty. How cruel are they? Cruel enough to kill a dog.

In 1987’s “Benji the Hunted,” lovable, beefy Benji is chased by a heartless hunter. Even the dogs that meet a natural death in movies, like “Marley & Me,” adapted from the 2005 memoir, do so with considerable pathos. Anyone reading this who watched “Old Yeller” when he was a kid was probably at least vaguely traumatized by his rage plot. So many dog ​​characters die or are killed on screen, the website Does The Dog Die? was created several years ago to provide premature detail, taking animal lovers away from the harrowing media or at least preparing them mentally.

Dakota Beavers as Taabe and Amber Midthunder as Naru in “Prey” (David Bukach/20th Century Studios)It’s hard to concentrate when you know the dog can die, and often do so violently. “I’m out, were my son’s words when a cat dies, brutally, in the 2022 remake of “Firestarter” (full disclosure: we were all cut from that slow movie long before). The dog’s death in “Them/Them” feels so inexplicable that it’s hard to stick with the story. Worrying about the fate of an innocent animal can take you out of the world of fiction and make you abruptly question the motive. It is a destabilizing effect.

Emotional manipulation of an audience is also easy.

Coco is not a professional dog; she just plays one on TV.

“Prey” does a good job of reassuring us about the dog, though it may have gone unnoticed. Sarii wasn’t supposed to be such a big part of the movie, according to Midthunder and director Dan Trachtenberg. But in the first screenings, everyone kept asking about that dog. As Trachtenberg says in an article with The AV Club: “Everybody, as we were developing it and showing cuts to friends and family, was like, ‘More dog! We love dog!’ I was like, ‘You don’t understand. We’re using every usable frame on this dog.'”

Coco is not a professional dog; she just plays one on TV. Adopted to be in the film (her breed is believed to be a type of dog used by indigenous people at the time the film is set), she apparently lacked the lengthy training that many dogs in the world of film go through. show. And her discipline. She would wander through the action scenes, depending on the cast and crew. Like the football player she often appeared with in high school theater, she had a hard time finding her mark.

She was also happy to be there.

By including her in most of the film, the dog feels present in most of Naru’s life and the life of her tribe.

As Midthunder put it, “A lot of Coco’s presence was running around wildly and spinning around and being so excited to see everyone all the time. For me personally, she was a dream. To make a movie, you know.” That emotion comes through the film in the dog’s eyes, which are bright and shiny, his big ears alert like old TV antennas. (Frankly, his ears should get his own account.)

She is not perfect. Coco apparently screwed up on set and Sarii does it on screen. She is always by her hunter’s side, but not when Naru needs the dog for “The NeverEnding Story”-style help. (You were probably traumatized by that scene in the 1984 movie too, but this movie won’t hurt you like that).

PreyDakota Beavers as Taabe and Amber Midthunder as Naru in “Prey” (20th Century Studios)The comedic timing of Coco as she spits out a rodent she chased feels effortless. Not only does she provide Naru with company, holding her own alongside the consummate actor, but she is also company for the audience, the comic for Naru’s straight man, the Hooch for her Turner. And the dog’s occasional misadventure is a nice realistic change from his bravery. Sarii is after a bear, after all.

Wisely, albeit by accident, the film doesn’t let us worry too much about the dog, nor does it let us forget her. She soon returns barking to the scene. If Naru is not worried, we are not worried.

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The four-legged character of “Prey” was inspired by the blue-heeled character known as Dog in “Mad Max: The Road Warrior,” and Sarii is ready to take his place among the Benjis, Lassies, Rin Tin Tins, and Rovers of the screen. . By including her in most of the film, the dog feels present in most of Naru’s life and the life of his tribe. And when she takes Sarii, Naru will risk her life for the animal, as Sarii risks her life for Naru over and over again. That’s just what partners do. She doesn’t come across as much of a problem in the movie. It is only expected.

No dog was left behind. And if Sarii has anything to say, neither does any warrior.

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