HOLLYWOOD—I love horror films, but I have literally given up hope on seeing a movie deliver like some of the great classics of the 1970s, like “Halloween” and “Alien.” When the 2008 flick “The Strangers” arrived in theaters, the word-of-mouth buzz I heard for that movie drove me to see it right away. I was astonished at what I witnessed. It was an entertaining flick that totally relied on suspense and tension to draw the viewer in and keep them on edge until the final moments.
Well, it’s been 10 years since that movie arrived, so it’s time for a sequel, “The Strangers: Prey At Night.” While the film offers some scares, it’s not as thrilling and enthralling as its predecessor and there are a number of reasons. For starters, this flick seems to follow all the troupes of a horror movie. Isolated environment: check. Strange person shows up unexpected: check. Characters making dumb decisions: check. Villains who are not as frightening: check.
I will acknowledge the premise is somewhat interesting, but when you have a family of four arrive at a desolated trailer park and not really question where everyone has gone during a holiday weekend that should raise a few eyebrows. We have Mike (Martin Henderson) and Cindy (Christina Hendricks) as the parents of Luke (Lewis Pullman) and Kinsey (Bailee Madison). I’d argue none of these characters are really developed except for Kinsey, who we know is not happy to be spending time with her family before she heads off to boarding school. And it’s apparent from the get-go that Kinsey is our heroine who is going to be the fearless one fighting off the three assailants: Dollface, Pin Up Girl and Man in the Mask.
The tension/suspension never ramps up like its predecessor; we don’t get to know the characters as much as we’d like to, and as a result you cannot be as heavily invested in their survival as you’d like to be. In addition, this turns more into a splatter-fest than a movie that relies on suspense to keep its audience on edge. It’s unfortunate that Bryan Bertino, who wrote and directed the first film, wrote such a mediocre script this time around. “The Strangers” really managed to unnerve the viewer, where “Prey At Night” leaves the spectator at times screaming at characters and tossing their hands into the air at the level of stupidity we’re witnessing.
How many times are we going to see the ‘let’s spilt up’ mantra take place in the horror universe. It is so 1980s and it is nearly 2020 America! It’s time to revitalize the genre by making the characters smarter, the villains smarter and the setting not so one dimensional. The constant theme of rock n’ roll 80s pop music is pushed so heavily on the audience it becomes downright annoying. We get it, these psychopaths love crazy pop music, but unless you’re going to give us a slice as to why these characters are doing what they’re doing (which we still have no reason why), why waste the time.
I wish Bertino was behind the camera because he delivered sensational technique utilizing the camera effectively to deliver top-notch scares. Director Johannes Roberts manages to deliver scares, but they don’t come off as complete surprises. The suspense is there, but the pay off or the notion of not knowing what is going to transpire diffuses the actual result. “The Strangers: Prey at Night” is an entertaining horror film, but it loses points on originality and when it comes to comparing the movie to its predecessor it never comes close to accomplishing what that movie did in terms of effective suspense, tension and scares.