OK, who actually remembers The Strangers? I barely knew about this film, in fact I actually watched the first film two days prior to seeing this one. The Strangers is one of those films that came out in the mid 2000’s, got very good critical acclaim and was told there was going to be a sequel and it never turned up. Yes, the first one came out in 2008, who was asking for a follow-up??
The first one worked so well because it was shot on a limited budget and had a realistic feel to it, it also did the home invasion genre pretty right and actually felt like you could be watching real events. Mind you, it had its own issues because it had serious pacing problems, but overall it was a decent film and it was doing a lot of the stuff that horror films weren’t doing at the time, and this was at a time when horror films were pretty bad. You look up most of the YouTube critics who do comedic reviews and when they talk about bad horror films, a lot of them came from that time period. But still, a decade is a long time, although the way the film is pitched it’s almost as if nothing has happened. The tictular Strangers themselves, being used quite heavily in the marketing department, something the first film didn’t really do, which leads me to the belief that they are trying to turn these characters into a franchise, similar to what has happened with Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees.
Prey at Night also has a change of director from the first film, original director, Bryan Bertino is now in the producers credit, although he did write the original screenplay for this film, though the final screenplay was written by Ben Ketai, who wrote the profoundly boring Japanese horror film, The Forrest. A film with so few scares, I was actually falling asleep in the cinema watching it. In the director’s chair we have Johannes Roberts, a guy who has really not directed many films I have actually liked at all, in fact some of his horror films have just been appalling. These includes Storage 24 which was actually an interesting idea from Noel Clark, which feels hampered by his direction, the terrible Hindu Exorcism film, The Other Side of the Door, which was so profoundly flawed and full of horror clichés, it’s dam near unwatchable and the previously reviewed 47 Metres Down, which has an interesting idea for a shark film but didn’t really capitalise on it and in the process of researching this film I was horrified to find it is getting a sequel next year with the lame sequel title of 48 Metres Down.
Now, The Strangers wasn’t a great horror film but it had some good points, how did Prey at Night do?
A family is travelling to drop off their daughter at a boarding school and they are going to stay the night at a relatives cabin at a trailer park. The family being played by Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson and Lewis Pullman. However, much like the first film, they get a knock at the door from the tictular Strangers who ask if Tamara is home. From there, The Strangers once again try to murder the family before the end of the night. That’s really all there is to it, the film is once again very short, running in at only five minutes longer than the first film, which in itself was only one hour and twenty minutes.
OK, I am going to start with some positives, this film does not feel as padded as the first one and there are a lot less boring moments. The trade-off for that is, well, it’s now a much more generic horror film. The film, fortunately does not rely too much on jump scares in the same way many horror films do, but ultimately the Strangers go from feeling like realistic psychopaths to outright monsters. The thing that made the first one seem real is that they didn’t seem like demons from hell. In fact that was what was scary about them, you don’t know what they are, you don’t know what they look like and they don’t have any reason to kill people, they just do. This feel makes them seem not human. OK, in the first one, they moved ungodly fast and seemed to have the ability to teleport, but for crying out loud, they get away with stuff in this film that seems incredibly unnatural, but they again, at least in this film, they don’t seem to waste time and just actually try to just outright kill them. Seriously, they missed so many opportunities in the first film the kill the couple, I’m astounded it took one hour twenty minutes.
There does seem to be a few changes since the first film, for example, they seem to have an obsession for 80’s music in this film, which was just a minor plot point in the first film and it seems to have been blown up out of proportion in this film. What’s more, they also seem to be on screen a lot more, which is certainly within horror movie traditions, the second film tries to outdo the first one. Some scenes are genuinely inspired. There is an excellent scene involving a swimming pool which is genuinely well choreographed and tense and some of the decisions the characters make are not that dumb. Plus, they give a much better reason in this film for why they just don’t call the police immediately.
The acting is also genuinely solid, across the board, I don’t have any problem with anyone’s performances. My problem is kind of the writing. Some of the characters act dumb as hell in some scenes and some scenes are clearly done just for the trailer and it’s to the expense of the believability. Anyone who is familiar with the Keddie Cabin case will notice some of the similarities, although there is just as many differences that this will not feel disrespectful. The problem is that for every step forward, Prey at Night does take it feels like it takes two steps backwards. Out of all of Johannes Roberts’ films, this is certainly his best one to date, but it’s not really saying much. On the one hand, I feel like he gets a lot of what didn’t work in the first film, but at the same time, he hasn’t really fixed it in the right way. It goes from one moment that really works, to another moment that fails miserably. I just found the film to be rather bland and the problems really arise during the climax, where believability goes completely out of the window and it turns from being a very believable scenario to an “OK, now you are just undermining my intelligence, these people can’t be human”. Also, if the plan was to turn this into a franchise, then some of the decisions made in this film, might put that on hold.
The film’s small cast also does lend credence to some of the film’s strong positives since it does give the film an intimate nature, but I hate to say it, but dull face man in the mask and pin up girl, all get way too much screen time in this film and it almost robs them of their mystique, not that they had too much to begin with.
The Strangers: Prey at Night might have some interesting ideas, but it ultimately doesn’t really fix a lot of problems with the first film and exacerbates itself with its own problems. Whilst not a bad film, and I have certainly seen horror films that are worse, it’s climax is where it seriously lost all believability and the themes it goes for never quite hit the mark. Prey at Night is a valiant attempt to do a sequel to a film that probably could have used a sequel but it’s too little too late and I think if it takes another ten years to make one, I guarantee, no one will care this time. No one struck while the iron was hot, so as a result it seems like they were desperate to get a franchise going, but I think the franchise is dead on arrival.
So, this week started out bad and it’s probably only going to get worse. Next week I review another sequel to a film that no one was asking for a sequel to, it’s the sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet, Sherlock Gnomes and please, if you are going to see an animated film, get in to see Mary and the Witches Flower. It’s not an amazing animated film, but it shows what great animation for kids can be if someone really puts their mind to it, which adults will enjoy as well.
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