Wow, has it really been ten years since The Strangers first graced the silver screen?
Christ, I’m old.
At any rate, I was a fan of that film, what with it’s minimalistic yet very real approach to horror — giving the genre a shot in the arm in the midst of giant monsters, rabies outbreaks, and unknown creepy parasites (hey, Cloverfield, Quarantine, and Splinter were all good in their own right, but it was nice to see a low-key, old-fashioned, organic horror flick that we could all relate to). So, I was of two minds when I first heard about the sequel when working on a review of writer/director Brian Bertino’s The Monster — while I was kinda excited at the prospect of seeing our trio of masked psychos back in action, I worried that any kind of sequel would either be a repetitive rehash, or something so different that it would not even bear a passing resemblance to the original.
The Strangers: Prey At Night turned out to fulfill a little of both of those sentiments, mostly toward the latter.
A family of four head to a lakeside camp/resort of sorts, for one last outing before they ship their daughter (the youngest) off to a private school because of some sort of behavioral issues. We never really find out exactly what the goth-y, generally bitchy teen did, but it must have been pretty rough. They arrive late, finding a note from their uncle that runs the place telling them of the trailer that has been prepared for their stay. They make their way to said trailer, noticing that the entire lakeside community (of which I never actually saw a lake) is completely deserted (and I mean deserted — we don’t even hear any crickets, for chrissakes). Figuring that can only be good for their last-ditch family bonding, they think nothing of it….until soon after they get inside, a determined knock at the door and a query of “Is Tamra home?” throws the night into chaos.
For those of you that have seen the original movie, it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to figure out where things go from there; for those of you that haven’t — well, it still doesn’t take much thought to predict how events will unfold, and that’s the real issue I have with the flick. While the beginning has some of that old magic from the original, that building sense of tension and dread, as we enter the second reel all of that kinda gives way to a pretty standard slasher formula. We get the omniscient antagonists who always seem to know precisely where the screaming, fleeing victims will go next, the stock “the bad guy was in the background all along” moments, and a couple of other staples of the hack ‘n’ slash that I won’t outline in detail as to stay predominantly spoiler-free.
Suffice to say, although it’s done fairly well (I had some issues with pacing and editing a few times), it’s still not really anything we haven’t seen before. The film went for the gore points a few times, which was nicely done, and had a more frenetic feel to it — but at the sacrifice of any real character development or overhanging dread.
Now, all of that negativity out of the way, I have to say that I don’t regret watching the film — I enjoy a formulaic slasher now and again, and it was, as stated, done with some skill. The acting was pretty stable across the board, and Bailee Madison as the estranged daughter carried a lot more of the meat of her role than I expected. There are a couple of really, really well-done scenes, and overall I found the movie an enjoyable watch — just not at all what I had hoped for.
As for the writing, Bertino was obviously looking to a) come up with something that wouldn’t be a rehash of the original, and b) pay homage to some great horror films of the past (just watch it, you’ll see a bunch of them, from Halloween to Christine to Texas Chain Saw Massacre) — and he succeeded on both counts, but the end result was just a little lackluster in my expectations based on the original film –primarily, I didn’t really feel for the protagonists. In the original, I was right there with Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, neck-deep in the suspense — but here, I just didn’t feel I knew this family. Additionally, there were several really inconsistent things that happened in the film, and of course there’s the general horrible, horrible decision-making on the part of the victims. Now look, I get it: if horror movies had smart victims, the flicks wouldn’t last very long, and we wouldn’t be able to sit in our seats and feel so superior yelling at the screen, just knowing we’d handle the situation better — but there’s a point where they get so dumb that suspension of belief is just impossible. There’s more than a little of that in The Strangers: Prey At Night — sadly, more than enough to destroy any semblance of that genuinely unsettling realism the 2008 film had.
It was a fun watch, just not something that I, in my tiny mind, can put in the framework of The Strangers universe — if there even is such a thing. In my opinion, the serious departure from the overall feel of the original concept, with far too little of the creepy atmosphere that made the first one as great as it was, just robbed this sequel of what I was hoping for. Of course, had it been too much like the original, it would have lost points for that as well, and likely labeled a simple cash-grab rehash.
Us damned horror fans, you just can’t please us. =P Kudos to the filmmakers and cast for having the stones to at least try.
All in all, I’d say that if you’re a slasher fan, check it out; if you’re a fan of the original film and can 1) table your expectations, and 2) accept the fact that you’ll see the characters in situations that don’t really jibe with what you know and just enjoy the ride, you can still find some merit.
As Dollface herself says, “Why not?”