Released Mar. 9, 2018
Rated R – 1hr 25min
Directed by Johannes Roberts
Starring Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Marvin Henderson
The long-awaited sequel to 2008’s The Strangers, a family of four intend on staying the night at a secluded mobile home campground. The film’s titular psychopaths intend that the family does not survive until morning.
While it initially appears that this follow-up might attempt to follow in the slowburn suspense thriller footsteps of its predecessor, about halfway through, Prey at Night decides it’s having none of that and goes full-throttled 80’s throwback slasher movie. Tense cat-and-mouse sequences, confrontational struggles, and bloody mayhem are the offerings here.
It is quite the arduous chore to get to that switch-up point. Whether it was intended from the get-go or this movie was punched up on the fly, the change in tone was a welcome turn of events. After a snoozer of an opening sequence, we’re introduced to an almost comically bland family. We have the slightly clueless father, the sorta icy mother, the baseball-loving brother who is allegedly in high school but looks 25, and the teenage riot grrl daughter who, with her Ramones T-shirt, ripped jeans, and waist-tied flannel, apparently stumbled right out of the mid-90’s. Despite whatever words fall out of their mouths, they all seem to have just met each other earlier that day. The script attempts to create some illusion of bonds between them, but can only defer to recollections of the most generic memories of moments they’ve shared. Seriously, the time we spend getting to know them is time truly wasted. Once the Strangers arrive in earnest, it feels as if they’re rescuing the audience from a dysfunctional family drama that the Lifetime network had thrown in the trash back in 1998.
The Strangers ironically breathe life back into a movie that was dying on the table. Don’t expect to get any additional insight into who they are or why they do what they do – they’re still the same trio of anonymous masked maniacs who thrill in the hunt of human game. Are they some kind of Manson-like microcult or do they all work together at the local Applebee’s? Who knows? I generally dislike the complete absence of backstory or motive for villains – it seems like lazy storytelling – but it clicks for the Strangers and compliments their nihilistic hobby. And that’s stabbing folks, for the most part.
So the script was woeful for much of the first half. (They had a decade to write this – I mean, what the fuck?) Apart from the dreadful lack of dynamics between this screen family, they were given abysmal survival skills to boot. On a scale of ‘meat’ to ‘that guy from The Revenant‘, they earn a cumulative score of ‘moderately brain-damaged’. The direction was certainly on point though. Johannes Roberts brings a lot of visual flair and skillful framing to what is essentially a trailer park slasher flick. In particular, a sequence involving a swimming pool and Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart is exceptionally memorable. He also plays around with background elements in very effective ways, whether it’s showing the suspenseful approach of impending doom upon an oblivious character or hiding ominous details in blink-and-miss-them moments. All the more reason to wish that first half was scripted tighter or in any fashion that resembled an entertaining movie, really.
It’s difficult to rate a movie that has the tale-of-two-films thing going on, where one half is inarguably superior to the other, but it helps when it’s the second half that shines over the first and I was left with an overall positive impression of what has been regarded as a rather unpopular sequel. There’s still the question of why take a solid decade to get this movie made, to which the Strangers might reply ‘Why not?’
Could have easily gone a notch lower, but
Prey at Night gets a