Because you were home…again. A family of four—husband Mike (Martin Henderson), wife Cindy (Christina Hendricks), and their two children Luke (Lewis Pullman), and daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) are taking a road trip. But, this isn’t some road trip celebrating a life achievement or something good. Consider it a last hurrah of sorts. Mike and Cindy are sending Kinsey off to boarding school, as they feel it’s the only way they can curb her rebellious streak.
On their way to the school, their trip brings about a rest stop at a trailer run by their relatives. A knock on the door brings about a mysterious young woman asking for a friend. Perplexed, the family turns her away, only to see her come back again asking for the same friend. Little does the family know, they’ve been targeted for some sadistic play of sorts by three masked assailants—all because someone was home.
It has been almost 10 full years since The Strangers hit theaters in 2008. Some issues? Certainly, but that movie directed by Bryan Bertino has a way of lingering in the viewer’s mind in ways that many horror flicks do not, even years after watching. Finally after much development hell, the masked threesome returns in The Strangers: Prey at Night. The title sounds like something that came out of the 80’s, and Prey at Night does everything possible to pay homage to those genre movies of yesteryear.
Bertino doesn’t return to direct, but he does return to pen the script for the “sequel,” which is more of a standalone film. Aside from the iconic “Is Tamara home?” and “Why are you doing this?” lines , there are no obvious connections to the original; most of the television marketing has done away with the Prey at Night part and went simply with The Strangers. Early on, this does come off as a direct rip of that 2008 movie in progression and set-up. As the brisk runtime continues, however, Bertino does carry a few surprises. Let’s only say things do not go as one may assume and that this batch of strangers is more forceful, which gives Prey at Night a little more unpredictability than anticipated. Still, the actual ending itself is a little cheap, and with no end credits to speak of, it just…ends.
In place of directing for Bertino is Johannes Roberts, who showed his ability to bring scares in wide-release form in the average-but-fairly-atmospheric 47 Meters Down last year. He takes a blast-to-the-past approach here that works somewhat. With properties like the IT remake and Stranger Things, the 80’s are en vogue right now, and The Strangers: Prey at Night wears its 80’s beating—err, bleeding—heart on its sleeve from the get-go with the title graphics, Ramones T-shirt, synthesized score by Adrian Johnston, and notable 80’s power ballads.
The score is good, while the soundtrack is hit or miss in the way it undercuts scenes that should possess more tension. As a whole, the soundtrack and 80’s nods come off as more of a needless inclusion than anything that adds to the story, as Prey at Night takes place in the modern day. Nowhere is the 80’s (and late 70’s for that matter) influence seen more than in the camerawork and lighting. Roberts uses steadicam, spatial set-pieces, and slow zooms not unlike the great John Carpenter or Tobe Hooper to generate some effective scares. It’s a good looking movie, with a pool scene serving as the pinnacle.
The Strangers 2008 succeeded because of its realism, often uncommon for a horror movie, and the nihilistic slant drove home the terror that this could happen to anyone. It was shockingly believable, with everyday characters who made mostly correct choices. Whether a meta-statement on the intelligence of people in 80’s horror movies or a writing oversight, Prey at Night features characters who make mediocre-at-best decisions pertaining to their survival, even as they hold the cards at times to change the momentum. All of this is to say that this cast can do little with what is presented. At least they aren’t annoying!
The Strangers: Prey at Night is standard genre fare. Expecting anything more? To quote a popular power ballad from back in the day, dream on.
Photo credits go to bloody-disgusting.com, theplaylist.net, and metacritic.com.
For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com.
Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson