by Matthew Yapp
Way back in the long-forgotten age of 2008, first-time director and writer Bryan Bertino created The Strangers, a film that stuck with many of the overused tropes of the slasher genre the film but still managed to innovate and feel fresh leading. This lead to it gaining a large fan following and achieving box office success. A decade later Bertino has teamed up with Johannes Roberts to create the sequel fans were craving, The Strangers: Prey at Night. Unfortunately, they may have held on a little too tightly to the formula that once worked for them. The concepts that felt exciting 10 years ago feel stale now, and everything that felt unexpected about the first movie screamed predictable in its sequel. That being said, the film does manage to capture a certain charm that many other films in the genre haven’t been able to capture lately. It also has likeable characters – well, likeable once you get through about half the movie.
A semi-scary story
The plot centers around a family staying at an isolated trailer park for one final family weekend before sending their rebellious teenage daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) off to boarding school because she is so incredibly misbehaved. Once they get there they find that a slaughter has already happened, and they seem to be the next victims on the literal chopping block.
The first 30 or so minutes of this film feel bland. It introduces you to some rather generic parents: Cindy and Mike (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson), the angry teenage daughter, and what family would be complete without the jock older brother who is unnecessarily rude to his sister: Luke (Lewis Pullman). The entire setup feels and sounds like something you’ve seen before and while it tries hard – like, really hard – to make you care about Kinsey being sent off to boarding school, you never can because it’s just vague discussion after vague discussion about how terrible her behavior has been lately. Past smoking and skipping a few classes, you never get a real answer as to what she has done wrong.
Once we get into what we came for though, that being murder of the innocent, the movie keeps a pretty steady pace. From here it’s what you would expect: family being picked off one by one by our masked killers. Is it a terrifying experience? No. That has to be the biggest loss for me, from the first film. Where its predecessor managed to answer the question “Why are you doing this?” with “Because you were home” this film answers the same answer with “Why not” which just doesn’t give the same spine-chilling effect. So while it doesn’t quite frighten, it does start to build up some really good tension and there are two or three really great jump scares. You won’t leave feeling shaken to your core, but it will certainly still get your adrenaline pumping.
Surprisingly likeable characters
Personally, I always think it is wise to take a page from The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and use a family in a horror movie rather than just a group of friends. It makes the relationships seem more realistic and their unwavering bonds and protectiveness towards one another make sense. This really comes through for our characters. The relationships actually seem natural and the dialogue less stagnant once we start to see them fear for not just their own lives but one another.
The parents shine the least. While you get to see some internal struggle from them not knowing if boarding school is right for Kinsey, and can certainly see them wanting to protect their kids, they do read as very one-note characters. Luke on the other hand gets some interesting and unexpected depth. Despite initially being the played-out athletic tough guy, he actually comes across as the most frightened in the movie and is often frozen by that fear. It was nice little turn to see a jock be two-dimensional in a film.
The star, however, is undoubtedly Kinsey. Our classic final girl here to save the day and our family. Is she the next Sidney Prescott of the horror genre? Absolutely not, but she is pretty fun to see nonetheless. While most these characters seem to fall into the horror trope of being an idiot and not knowing what to do in the face of danger, Kinsey is the T’challa of this film because she never freezes. Constantly making good decisions on the run and putting up a hell of fight against seasoned serial killers, Kinsey is by far the most likeable of our protagonists.
The visuals for this movie could be described as a lot of fun but very frustrating. It kind of felt like someone told Roberts what wide shots were and he said, “Awesome, let’s use those as much as possible, also toss in a few unnecessary zooms. Those are tense.” It is irritating because sometimes the shots are done well and getting the full scene adds to the horror, but other times it takes you out of it and leaves you wondering what on Earth they’re doing. The zooming in however never adds anything.
The film also paid a little too much homage to its ‘80s slasher roots by playing several pop hits from that time, like Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Air Supply’s “Making Love out of Nothing at All.” I do see the appeal, there can be something unsettling about a normal song playing during something gruesome, but it felt a little heavy-handed. The use of neon however which was likely done for the same purpose worked well. There is a shot done in a pool filling with blood surrounded by neon palm trees and from a strictly aesthetic perspective it was gorgeous.
Overall The Strangers: Prey at Night is not the sequel fans wanted. In terms of scares, uniqueness, and cinematography it falls short of its predecessor. It is far from a complete flop though, it finds strength in its characters and manages to be an entertaining ride. While it’s not something viewers will want to add to their DVD collection, you will likely come out of the theater having had an all right time. You don’t necessarily need to run to the theater to watch it, but maybe take a leisurely stroll there on your own time.
Featured image from 10z
The Strangers: Prey at Night
'The Strangers: Prey at Night' is a cookie-cutter slasher film that still manages to hold a decent amount of charm. Director Johannes Roberts seems to get lost in an aesthetic that only works about half the time, but makes up for it with compelling characters. While it loses the excitement and innovation that its predecessor 'The Strangers' has, it still manages to be an enjoyable watch.