The Strangers: Prey at Night
A family staying in a secluded mobile home park for the night are visited by three masked psychopaths, to test their every limit.
March 9th, 2018
I had the good fortune of seeing the original The Strangers in a theatre with only my husband and some other random creepy dude seated somewhere the opposite side of the seats (not part of our party).
What could possibly top that? Well, today’s screening of The Strangers: Prey at Night was just me and my husband. No one else. Talk about a perfect set-up for watching a scary movie!
The bummer is that the first film is so far superior to the sequel, that having the theatre completely to ourselves would have been magically terrifying. The sequel isn’t as good, and so having an empty theatre at our disposal – just isn’t quite as cool. This isolation felt like a waste.
With a few notable exceptions (Aliens, The Road Warrior and The Dark Knight are the first titles to come to mind), sequels are notoriously “less-than” their predecessors.
Sadly, with the introduction of The Strangers: Prey at Night – we can’t add to that list of notable exceptions. Not bad, not great – let’s call it just above average.
Mike (The Ring’s Martin Henderson) and his wife Cindy (Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks) are taking a little road trip with their two teenaged children – Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and Luke (Lewis Pullman) – not so much for pleasure, but to drop off Kinsey at a boarding school, in the hopes of straightening her out. This is sort of the parents’ last-ditch effort to get her bad behavior under control. On the way, they stop to stay on a vast lake property owned by Cindy’s uncle – basically a seasonal trailer park, which is now in its off-season (read: deserted) – and that’s where they meet our now-iconic masked threesome. And, as is expected, havoc ensues.
The soundtrack (both the ‘80s song choices as well as the synthy – It Follows-esque score) is to die for (if you’ll pardon that terrible pun). ’80s faves like Marilyn Martin’s “Night Moves” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” will offer little thrills of nostalgia to fans of that music era, despite the sequences they accompany.
From the opening credits and The Dead Zone title design, this film has no shortage of call-outs to previous (and in most cases – better) films. There are two additional Stephen King connections late in the film – both at about the same time. Carrie and the very obvious homage to Christine (you’ve seen that one in the trailers). And there’s also a moment lifted straight out of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Where does the fun of horror film homages cross over into too much “borrowing” from everything else? This film doesn’t quite cross that line, but perhaps a notch or two less would have been preferable. Shouldn’t we be paying attention to the filmmakers’ own story, not taking the time to pick out their nostalgic favorites?
I realize horror films are all about characters making terrible and illogical choices – in order to get an extra scare, or to move things along in the hopes of drumming up some suspense – but it’s been a good long while since I found myself talking to and/or screaming at the screen (helped out by the fact that again – there was only myself and my husband in the theatre), but jeepers… I lost count at the number of dumb character actions (going into a house when they should be running away, not shooting a gun when the chance is right there, investigating a strange noise when it’s already clear to the character that there are murderous masked-folks all around and not getting in the car and high-tailing it out of there, the moment things look weird).
Performances from the four leads are near perfect. Character histories are pretty minimal, so we don’t get much from the performances in that “character development” vein, but when the actors need to react to the horror unfolding around them – you’ll totally buy it. Each of the four leads have specific highlights in their performances – for Bailee Madison, you’ll easily be taken in during one of the few “breaks” in the action, where she can catch her breath and take inventory of what has happened. It’s a wonderfully hysterical (not funny – more like frazzled) moment of chaos in her performance, followed by a perfectly-timed “boo” moment.
And while we are on the topic of “boo” moments, there are several effective jumps throughout the film. And that’s always a good time. But what the film lacks (which the original so deftly achieved) was the complete dread, suspense and unease. In the original, it felt as though Bertino and his team were able to place things within the frame – with no effort. Figures would almost “appear” and it never felt like you (as the audience) were being set up. In the sequel, every time a shot had a large open space to the side of the main action, you knew that you should be looking for something. While that’s kind of fun as some sort of “Where’s Waldo” game, it also feels like a bit of transparent trickery. The original was effortless. The obvious tricks here seem like they’re trying too hard.
But as far as making you uncomfortable, the sequel does have a few standout moments. The biggie? Well, I’ll say nothing more than “the swimming pool”. There was something deeply disturbing about how this sequence played out – one of those rare moments which somehow reaches deep into your core and gnaws at something you didn’t realize would upset you. Maybe not for everyone else, but this scene freaked me the hell out.
One of the most chilling things about the original film was the masked intruders’ responses to their victims’ questions of “Why are you doing this?” The now-legendary “Because you were home” is truly the stuff of nightmares, and brings to mind all sorts of reasons and non-reasons for these vicious attacks. You know it’s coming in the sequel (the repetitiveness of this question before the characters are even facing off against the masked murderers makes it quite obvious this exchange is imminent). But the payoff in the sequel didn’t quite live up to the original’s amazing catchphrase. It feels like a missed opportunity.
And speaking of missed opportunities, one of the characters’ deaths was wide open for something so very cool and ideal for the situation in which the character finds him/her self. I’ll just say that it’s the scene of a car accident and that car seats are made to move forward (if necessary). When you see the film, you’ll know what I’m referencing and why it’s a missed opportunity for a truly memorable and gnarly death sequence.
Treading in familiar territory (both from the original as well as several other horror classics), The Strangers: Prey at Night is at the best reasonably enjoyable, at the worst – sort of unnecessary. But with strong performances from the four leads and a nostalgic and fun soundtrack – it’s certainly worth a look-see.
This film is directed by Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down, The Other Side of the Door) and written by Ben Katai and the original’s Bryan Bertino.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is now playing in theatres everywhere.