Reviews The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)
Ten years ago as an impressionable teenager, I saw “The Strangers” at a midnight showing with one of my best friends. To date, it stands as the most taut moviegoing experience of my life. After nearly a decade of production hell, the sequel-“The Strangers: Prey at Night” has finally come out of the woodwork. This followup has the same trio of villains pursuing victims in cat-and-mouse games, but this time it’s an entire family staying at a deserted resort who are the target.
Perhaps I’m biased because I truly love the original film, but I found “Prey at Night” to be a significant letdown as a followup to Bryan Bertino’s 2008 film, which was a masterful exercise in tension. I was skeptical of a sequel even being possible given how well Bertino exercised his formula in the first film-what else could really be done? “Prey at Night” essentially takes the formula of the first film, dresses it in de rigeur ’80s style (complete with an exclusive ’80s soundtrack), and amplifies the gore. It’s mostly in good fun-but it’s also completely devoid of suspense, tension, and unease.
There are a few sequences that are masterfully-executed-including a protracted sequence in a neon-lit swimming pool, and a mother-daughter attack in a trailer- but the in-between that stitches these better scenes together is repetitive and predictable, and the cinematography often gives the feel of a made-for-TV movie. The characters are also an issue in that they feel too much like stock characters; the lead being a chain-smoking bratty teenage girl running around in a Ramones t-shirt, followed by her likable brother, and two hip parents who are in the process of carting little-miss-trouble off to boarding school. In spite of the contrived characters, the acting is fairly good from all involved, including the actors portraying the three strangers.
There are a few moments of true tragedy and true catharsis in the film which are well-orchestrated, but I cannot help but compare “Prey at Night” to its predecessor. This sequel is a very different film that has its hits, but it frankly has more misses. As a frivolous run-of-the-mill slasher, it’s rather enjoyable, but it lacks the emotional gravitas that made the first film so arresting and nerve-shredding.
In 2008 a movie called “The Strangers” was released, which, in my opinion, is one of the best horror movies of recent times, mainly because of its simplicity and its eerie realism. So here we are, a decade later, with the release of its sequel, titled “The Strangers: Prey At Night”, directed by Johannes Roberts. Given the success of the first installment, it’s fair to assume that this sequel comes with a lot of hype even after all these years. Unfortunately, not only does “Prey At Night” not live up to the hype, it comes up far short of it.
Prey At Night’s plot will be familiar to anyone that has seen the first movie. A family decides to go away for the weekend and stay at a trailer park where some family members live at. Soon after they arrive, they get a knock from a mysterious girl who is seemingly lost. After she leaves, the family begins noticing strange things and soon encounter three masked people trying to hunt down and kill them. Again, it’s a story that will be familiar to anyone that has seen the original, but this time it’s a family of four trying to survive in a trailer park seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Because it’s set in the confines of a trailer park and not a house like in the original, there’s a lot more room for the family to move around and escape from these masked killers. Ultimately, in this case, that ends up being a bad thing. What really made the original as eerie and intense as it was is how condensed the atmosphere was. It was two people essentially trapped in an isolated house with nothing else around them while being stalked and preyed upon by three unknown, masked people. It really added to the chill that you felt by watching it knowing that there is a bit of realism that is present in the situation. It was simple but very effective in how it delivered its scares. Here, it’s different. It’s a much more open and less suffocating atmosphere and as a result, you lose a lot of the tenseness and eeriness that existed in the original. What I’m trying to say here is that this movie is not very scary. It has its moments here and there, but the constant feeling of dread that was in the original is unfortunately absent here due to the structure of the environment.
Another element of the original that makes it better is the performances. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman really made you feel like they were in grave danger, which added to the overall feeling of dread. In this sequel, the acting isn’t quite as good. It’s still an “okay” cast made up of Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison (probably the standout here), and Lewis Pullman, but they’re just not quite up to par with Tyler and Speedman, both being pretty good actors. To be fair, however, the characters and writing didn’t necessarily do this new cast any justice. Multiple times throughout the movie these people would do idiotic things that would get them into trouble. If I had a nickel for every time I wanted to facepalm, I’d probably have enough to easily cover my ticket for the movie. And don’t even get me started on the last 15 minutes. Most of the things that happen in the final 15 minutes is either so idiotic that I could barely watch, or not even humanly possible. It’s all just a bunch of nonsense that tries to set up a sequel, but fails miserably.
The film’s runtime is 85 minutes, which is pretty short for a mainstream movie these days. It ends up being a good thing though, as the movie doesn’t waste much time getting straight to the action. Instead of a drawn out, overlong horror flick, it ends up being pretty well paced, which is one of the few things that it actually gets right.
Overall, what we have here is a horror sequel that pales in comparison in every way to the original. It tries to be as scary and thrilling as the original, but what the original had was simplicity and realism, which created a constant feeling of dread, something that this movie fails to deliver even in its best moments. Here’s hoping that it takes them 10 years to deliver another sequel.