‘Prey’ And The Double-Sided Language Problem

by Frank Martin

Language in film is very important. The one depicted on screen can alter the experience the audience has. If it’s a recognizable language, it becomes easier to immerse oneself in a setting. But there’s also the authenticity factor. Placing a film in its native language showcases the true representation of the story. Whether or not a film is viewed with subtitles or being dubbed is a decision that can affect its ultimate response. For a filmmaker, the question goes even deeper as to what language the film should use in the first place. In the case of Prey, the choice to use English instead of the characters’ native Comanche is a deliberate choice with real consequences.

The film is primarily made for an English audience, so filming it in English has many benefits. It allows the film to appear more broadly and it also allows its audience to absorb the film more fully than if it was filmed in Comanche. Of course, a very neat feature of its Hulu presentation is the option to watch the film with a Comanche dub, but that’s not necessarily the same as shooting the movie in the language. That decision would allow the film to have a level of authenticity that could match a movie like The Passion of the Christ, which was filmed in Jesus’s native Aramaic.

But there’s an important part of this film that can’t be overlooked. This is when the main character is kidnapped by French fur traders and put in a cage. During this scene, she is scared and held captive by people whom she can’t understand. That language difference served an important function in the movie. The fact that she had been speaking English and we understood her allowed us to empathize with her and see ourselves in her shoes when her captors couldn’t be understood. If she had been speaking Comanche, then the feeling of hopelessness and miscommunication wouldn’t have been as strong. This is why it’s not as easy to just put a movie in a different language without fully understanding the emotional and storytelling consequences of that decision.

Prey is now streaming on Hulu.

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