The 2008 Cult Horror film The Strangers was flawed. The titular “characters” (if I dare use such a word) were unstoppable forces of chaos and destruction. They were menacing, and haunting, and, most importantly, scary. Yes, they teleported. They were precogs with an uncanny ability for hunting down Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman. The Strangers were on the level of Anton Chigurh, yet less human. That’s something that people either love or hate, personally, I love that inhuman aspect to the strangers, but I understand that for most people this would be more frustrating and annoying rather than scary. Although I acknowledged all of these faults with the film, it still captivated me. I was horrified, and years after watching the film I still discuss it with some amount of reverence. It was a time and place thing, I imagine, but it stands with some of my favorite horror films of all time, and it has inspired various projects I’ve written. I like to think that it sparked a tradition with my friends, and collectively engrossed us with an interest in the film industry.
It gave me an important shot. The greatest shot in the film was in fact so impressive they needed to plaster it over the marketing and promo materials. Liv Tyler sipping a bottle of wine, emotionally fragile, dazed, and a bit scared, turns towards the camera leaving a large open-space to her back. Out of the darkness steps the man in the mask. He watches her and disappears back into the darkness. Implausible; yes. Terrifying; also yes. That shot inspired me. It left me wanting to produce and create. If I filmed something only half as impressive as that shot, I would be proud of myself.
While I may not think that The Strangers was an important film, it was important to me. Sometimes that’s all that matters.
Cut to 2018.
The announcement of a sequel to The Strangers was a mixed bag for me. A part of me wanted The Strangers to stay behind its rose-tinted glass. A part of me knows that there’s something wrong with keeping things behind rose-tinted glass. So, cautiously I purchased a ticket to The Strangers: Prey at Night. Going into the theater I had hope for the film. That it would terrify me to my core in the same manner as the first. It wasn’t an unspeakable horror, it was the horror of the randomness, of the sheer pointlessness of it all. There was no grand conspiracy, demonic presence, or demented Christian imagery. There was no grand reason that Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman spent their last nights on Earth being tortured and killed by three psychopaths, they were just home. All of the sub-plot and backstory amounted to nothing. These strangers had no ties, no reason, they operated on pure desire. There’s actually an excellent book that I’d recommend to interested readers on the nature of post 9/11 horror films that talks about The Strangers.
And that is the one consistent thematic tie that Prey at Night has to the original film. The rest is just smoke and mirrors. The intimate nature of the original film’s cinematography has been thrown out, instead opting for something clean, cliche, and safe. The original films almost vomit-inducing shaky camera served a legitimate purpose: an unstable relationship is reflected by the unstable camera. There is a frenetic pace to it all that serves the purpose of the story. I use the term intimate because, for all intents and purposes, the story follows two characters in a rapidly degrading situation, and relationship, in one location.
Prey at Night is bigger in every sense of the word. Instead of a couple, we have all whole family. Instead of a home, we have an entirely abandoned trailer park. We are thrown right into the clutches of The Strangers, only for the film to forget about them until halfway through. This isn’t to say that bigger is worse, but in the case of Prey at Night bigger is lazier.
We begin our film with a lovely old couple in their trailer home. It’s a quaint place. Quiet. They’re sleeping until they are rudely awoken by a knock at the door. The wife walks to the door (can you guess what happens next?) and lo and behold there’s no one there. She’s a bit spooked, peeks out of a window, and is startled by a Stranger in a mask in the corner of her kitchen. Just hanging out y’know. It’s a dreadfully boring scene. There’s very little torment, or psychological horror, or torture. Not to say that every film needs it, but if I’m watching the sequel to The Strangers, I almost expect it.
Maybe it’s trying to subvert my expectations. Johannes Roberts and Bryan Bertino must’ve gone to the Rian Johnson school of screenwriting.
Also, this opening scene completely falls apart later on in the film when the brother/sister duo stumbles upon the aftermath of the murders. The signature “hello” is etched in red ink on the window, and a bloody bed-dress is draped in the center of the room which is hiding the bodies of the slaughtered husband wife and couple. Yet, we saw that scene. The Strangers did not torment them in that manner. They didn’t write on the glass. Why wouldn’t you just show that in the introduction? Why would The Strangers do this after their victims are dead? Why would they set their bodies up? In the original, they just left Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman bleeding out on the floor of their home. It’s questions and logical leaps like these that ruin a film. I’m willing to watch the film with some amount of suspension of disbelief, that how I watched and enjoyed the original, but this is just leaps and bounds beyond anything I could imagine.
And it only gets worse.
I believe that this film is only scary if you are absolutely mortified by awful writing and almost comical editing. The plot is too convenient. Oh, would you look at this, the trailer park that we are staying at for the night that has TONS and TONS of trailers is completely abandoned because of a holiday weekend…
That type of “excuse” for the premise of your horror film is too lazy and too clean. I’d almost implore any film lover to go and watch the film with a notepad and just jot down the terrible things that you see. In an age where we have, It Follows, Get Out, It Comes at Night, Gerald’s Game, 1922, and, of course, how could I forget the absolute masterpiece that is, Annabelle Creation, this type of filmmaking comes across as lazy and pathetic. We’ve seen a recent surge in absolutely excellent horror films that make Prey at Night feel dated.
Also, the strangers die! What in the world is going on here? I thought they were trying to make a franchise here? Did I miss a memo or something? I just don’t want to believe that they revived a ten-year-old cult horror film to kill off all of the main villains. It’s just bizarre. I can’t explain it.
We love Stranger Things, how about you? – Prey at Night filmmakers
They shoehorn an 80’s soundtrack in the film for no reason. Kinsey (played by Bailee Madison) wears a Ramones shirt… I’m not sure why. They don’t make a point of emphasizing music. I mean, there was a couple of scenes in the original where music plays a key role in terrorizing Liv Tyler, but for Prey at Night doesn’t even find a good excuse for it.
Even the title card is written in the Stranger Things font. Be original, don’t adopt a style just because that style worked for another product if it makes absolutely no sense for it to be in your film. At least have narrative justification for music to play a central role in your plot ala Baby Driver.
I understand that Johannes Roberts was inspired by John Carpenter films, but I just don’t see how paying homage to Carpenter elevated the story or mood of the film. It’s kind of tragic in a way. The Strangers was a unique spin on the home invasion horror film. It was different, and that was it’s strength. Prey at Night isn’t much of anything. It doesn’t have anything to say. Even though everything is bigger, it still remains quaint and lifeless.
The Strangers franchise, which started with a bang, is dying with a whimper. Unless you’re an aspiring filmmaker that wants to watch awful films to figure out what not to do, don’t watch this film. It’s bad. Not even a fun bad, just a sad bad.
And that’s sad, man.