The Strangers: Prey At Night

Ten years later, somebody finally made a sequel to the horror hit “The Strangers” and proved that, once again, some movies absolutely do not need a chapter two. Here, a family of four (led by “Mad Men” star Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson, lead in the Ice Cube-led fiasco “Torque”) go on a road trip in an effort to bond (they really should have gone to Wally World). They wind up staying in a spooky, empty trailer park, inhabited by killers. The trio of villains are identified in the credits by the disguises they adorn (Man in the Mask, Dollface and Pin-Up Girl) and are quick to stalk, scare and stab their victims.

An update from the prior films is that the menacing creeps now like to blast bad 80’s pop ballads during their killing spree. It’s a touch that doesn’t work. Note to the filmmakers: nothing sucks the suspense out of your chase scene than having Air Supply playing over the soundtrack. Another scene takes place partially underwater, which made me grateful that I didn’t have to hear “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in its entirety.

It all leads up to a stupid final scene that can’t seem to decide if it wants to conclude with a sequel set-up or a fake-out scare, chooses neither and just fades to the end credits. While the original left me shaking, this sequel gave me the sinking feeling that I should instead have endured Oprah dressed as Tina Turner in “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Why are the killers doing their dirty deeds, done dirt cheap? Perhaps they’re a bunch of 80’s-lovin’ Gen-X-er’s who hate Millennials, which is why the film’s first real victims are a pile of cell phones. Is there anything scarier to the film’s target audience than not having their phones? Maybe these creeps hate teens who shop at Hot Topic and can’t appreciate the likes of A Flock of Seagulls? It would explain a lot of this movie.

I tend to go easy on the inept behavior of characters during these movies and forgive them for making bad decisions. Look, until you’ve been chased by a psychopath wearing  a mask and carrying a large cutting tool, you can’t claim that you’d act rationally, either. When people do things in these movies like hide in closets or hide in parked cars, I genuinely sympathize. On the other hand, the people in this movie behave like such morons, I wondered if they were being targeted because of their lack of peripheral vision.

The strength of debut writer/director Bryan Bertino’s 2008 “The Strangers” is that it set up its simple premise perfectly (affectionate couple checks into log cabin and has their romantic getaway interrupted by murderous bullies) and piled on real terror. I cared very much for the leads (played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) and their night-long stand against the killers consisted entirely of suspense and suggestion. Until the ending, which always felt tacked on to me. I won’t ruin it but the closing scenes felt like Eli Roth stepped in to cap a Hitchcockian thriller with an overly cruel and out-of character final confrontation. That lousy ending keeps “The Strangers” at near-great status, despite how effective most of it is.

The sequel, on the other hand, has little to recommend it. While the atmospheric setting is eerily lit, there’s no sense of geography, as the location is as random as the attacks. There’s lots of jump scares but little to really get worked up about. The villains are much scarier in the shadows than in plain sight and no one in the cast really stands out (except for Zeke the dog, who seems really scared).

Horror fans are in for a rough year: since “It” made a fortune in 2017, it only means studios are now rushing to push the next potential scary blockbuster out there. For every one breakout genre classic, there will be dozens of movies like this one to remind us how bad a horror movie can be.

One Star

originally published in Maui Time Weekly


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