The Strangers was released in 2008 and was generally positively regarded by the horror community. The aloof, controlled nature of the killers paired with their apathetic victim selection strategy made for a disturbing home invasion narrative. It played with the ideas of random acts of violence spawned by the victims being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was no uplifting resolution or inspiring moral at the end. Audiences were thrust back into the real world with the understanding that at any time they could be next.
Unfortunately, Prey at Night gets a lot wrong. (Spoilers ahead.) Consistency is key to creating terrifying villains, and the audience looks on while our devil may care killers murder their first victims without either their elaborate ruse or the drawn-out night of fear and carnage. In Prey at Night the audience watches them set a trap to catch a family they couldn’t have possibly have known was coming. Their acts of violence go from random and opportunistic to deliberate and calculating – assuming they know things they couldn’t possibly. That shift in intention immediately torpedoes the most terrifying aspect of the original – that the violence about to play out on screen is senseless and random. Once that understanding is gone, the film has nothing to do but descend.There are a few redeeming qualities about Prey at Night – it does a nice job of misleading audiences. The predictable elements are few and far between. Like The Strangers, Prey at Night also beautifully utilizes darkness. As we learn more about the family the day wears on, gradually giving way to night and total darkness which functions symbolically but also practically to heighten scares. Another strong point is the way they returned to the original’s habit of having the villains sneak up on their victims only to disappear. The “now you see it, now you don’t” opportunistic scares run rampant through the film and are far more effective than the jump scares most slashers and contemporary horror films default to. Having the disappearing killers was a fun callback to the original. The downside to all of these positive elements is the fact that all the most effective scares were in the trailer and that the characters are somehow even less memorable than the victims in the first movie.
For those who have complained about the weird musical decisions – re-watch the original. The Strangers featured similar deliberate, symbolic song choices. What’s more, in terms of practical application, handling vinyl to choose a song to play as you stalk people in a house is much less convenient than switching on a radio and selecting a station. In addition, there is a motive to change from the musical selections of the first film beyond the recent commercial success of retro movies and references to eighties culture. By choosing classic songs like ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ they avoid lumping the villains into the hillbilly horror sub-genre. (This is a large concern with Prey at Night in particular, as the hunting grounds are a trailer park in the woods.)All-in-all The Strangers: Prey at Night was a somewhat enjoyable slasher, but what you see is what you get. The magical nuances that made its predecessor special are essentially gone. If you’ve watched the trailer, wait till it hits streaming services – you’ve basically already watched the film.
WICKED RATING: 3/10
Director(s): Johannes Roberts
Writer(s): Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai
Stars: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, Emma Bellomy, Lewis Pullman, Lea Enslin, Damian Maffei
Release date: Mar. 9, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Aviron Pictures, thefyzz, White Comet Films, Bloom and Rogue Pictures
Length: 85 minutes