The Strangers: Prey at Night Review

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The Strangers: Prey at Night is quite stupid and lacks the suspense of the first film because it throws out most of what worked. Now we're left with a vapid slasher with uninteresting kills and a really annoying premise about a teen with angst issues.

PLOT SUMMARY

A family of four heads out to a trailer park to stay the night while driving their rebellious teen daughter to boarding school. Once there, they realize that they’re not alone like they thought; a trio of murderous individuals hell-bent on playing mind games with the family descends, and their aim is to murder each and every one of them. Also, ’80s music and stuff.

Director: Johannes Roberts
Actors: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, Lewis Pullman
Genre: Horror
Year of Release: 2018

A shallow shadow of the original at every turn, Prey at Night will simply make audiences long for the first film, or perhaps even the better slashers of the ’80s era the film tries to imitate. Sometimes, you can judge a film by its godawful title.

FILM REVIEW

Ten years is a long time to wait for a sequel, but it’s certainly not the craziest time span in cinema history. And The Strangers: Prey at Night has director Johannes Roberts, who recently directed the well-received 47 Meters Down. While such a long wait doesn’t inspire much confidence, especially due to original creator Bryan Bertino’s absence, there is some worth to revisiting topics about brutality and unmotivated violence in an era when mass shootings are an unfortunate certainty every few months.

The Strangers: Prey at Night feels like an unfortunate offspring of the original film, though, which was recently released by Scream Factory on Blu-ray for comparison. Since Bertino isn’t involved in either directing or scriptwriting, new writer Ben Ketai is forced to come up with an original idea that also hews closely to the first film’s home invasion dynamic. Surprisingly, this film excises the “home” element, putting our four main characters in a trailer park with which they’re already unfamiliar.

This means that the usual safety of being nestled inside a house is already lacking when The Strangers: Prey at Night starts, which is a significant element of tension for viewers; that home element is easier to imagine than audiences being stranded in some unknown campground, running through the night in terror. The unconventional setting is Roberts’ attempts to give the film an open-air atmosphere, to highlight how horror doesn’t have to be limited to confined spaces. Yet giving the killers and the victims so much room to maneuver immediately reduces the dread of being trapped somewhere and accidentally running into the wrong person. It also makes the plot unwieldy; this trailer park should be massive (there are at least 40 trailers), but the film’s family is easily found every step of the way. At some points, the killers are even able to effectively predict which trailer the victim will enter.

It’s unfortunate that Christina Hendricks got roped into this as playing the mom character Cindy. She’s a strong actress, but she gets almost nothing to do here, and the film rips her out of the storyline way too early even despite the movie’s plodding pace. Prey at Night is less about the cat-and-mouse game than it is delivering tedious kill scenes; even then, they’re not inventive, and they don’t hold the power of the original film’s agonizing brutality, when it’s clear that everyone involved is personally invested in this level of violence. Here, the faceless killers are just that; they have no personalities besides what Roberts tries to shoehorn in, like the Man in the Mask’s obsession with ’80s music and neon lighting (ultimately a nod to Bertino’s record skips, but without a point).

It also doesn’t help that the viewer is forced to endure a painful opening about angsty teen girl Kinsey (Bailee Madison). It’s probably not Madison’s fault, but the whole shtick is overwrought, with Kinsey becoming more and more irritating with every passing minute. As plot lines go, centering focus on a bratty kid rarely works, and Prey at Night is already slow enough without the audience having to deal with Kinsey’s faux-goth outbursts (she smokes! she suggestively wears a Ramones shirt!).

The Strangers: Prey at Night plays more like a remake than anything else, with tons of odes to the original film. But it’s far less substantive than Bertino’s work, and even that had some serious flaws like stupid characters (oh! you ain’t seen nothing until you get a load of this family). A shallow shadow of the original at every turn, Prey at Night will simply make audiences long for the first film, or perhaps even the better slashers of the ’80s era the film tries to imitate. Sometimes, you can judge a film by its godawful title.

VIOLENCE

The film has some heightened levels of gore but it’s all pretty mundane stuff; various stabbings never reach the impact that the original’s finale had, and ultimately all of the setpieces are forgettable.

SEX/NUDITY

I know what you’re expecting from this R-rated horror film: Christina Hendricks hardcore stuff. And you would be wrong.

INTERESTING ELEMENTS

  • When the Man in the Mask’s truck blows up at the end of the film you can see that the cab of the truck is completely empty. No dummy, no nothing – just empty space. Since the blast is so well-lighted, it’s a serious continuity error.
  • The new phrase for this film is “Why not?” instead of “Because you were home.” Way tacky.
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