THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT review

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There’s that sequel to that slasher horror film that everyone loved that I never saw!

Actually, that’s not an exaggeration. It’s literally been a decade since the first Strangers film and this sequel has been in development ever since. So… is anyone truly excited for this at this point? Ten years later? Really?

This will be my second foray into this flick, actually. Some months ago, I was invited to an early screening of this movie before it was technically finished, though I remember it being finished, at least for the most part. I won’t give away my opinion here because for all I know, some serious changes were made and the movie is much better this time around. So we’ll see.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Bailee Madison (BROTHERS [2009], and TV shows TROPHY WIFE [2013 – 2014] and ONCE UPON A TIME [2011] – ongoing), Lewis Pullman (BATTLE OF THE SEXES [2017], and upcoming films BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE [2018] and THEM THAT FOLLOW [2018]), Christina Hendricks (FIST FIGHT [2017], DRIVE [2011], 2 episodes of TV show FIREFLY [2002 – 2003], and the upcoming EGG [2018]), Martin Henderson (MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN [2016], EVEREST [2015], and WINDTALKERS [2002]), and Lea Enslin, making her feature-film debut. Congrats, miss.

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Johannes Roberts, known for 47 METERS DOWN (2017), THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR (2016), and the upcoming 48 METERS DOWN (2019). Now this is a new one. Credited for the screenplay is Ben Ketai (THE FOREST [2016] and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT: DARK DAYS [2010]), but credited for the original screenplay is Bryan Bertino (THE STRANGERS [2008]), who also directed it. Haven’t done that before. Let me guess. “Creative differences” between him and the studio. Composing the score is Adrian Johnston, known for a bunch of stuff that I’ve never heard of. The cinematographer is Ryan Samul, known for stuff that I’ve never heard of, and the upcoming UFO (2018). Finally, the editor is Martin Brinkler, known for 47 METERS DOWN, and upcoming films BOARDING SCHOOL (2018) and DAMASCUS COVER (2018).

Overall, I am a fan of Christina Hendricks and have adored Madison’s million dollar smile since her stint in ONCE UPON A TIME, so I enjoy the acting talent more than anything. Having said that, the red flags are in how many people were involved with 47 METERS DOWN, which I didn’t much like. Here’s hoping no film careers are killed because of this. Actually, I think Hendricks has a new TV show out, so she’s going to be pretty secure.

This is my honest opinion of: THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT

 

(SUMMARY)

Kinzey (Bailee Madison) is a trouble making teenager. Her antics have caused such problems that her mother Cindy (Christina Hendricks), father Mike (Martin Brinkler), and older brother Luke (Lewis Pullman), are moving away with the intention of shipping Kinzey off to boarding school. They have a journey ahead of them, so the parents are visiting their aunt and uncle in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival at night, it’s eerily devoid of… anyone. Thinking it’s no big deal, they bunk up. However, despite the family trying to connect one last time, they separate. It isn’t long before a menacing trio of masked strangers begin to terrorize the family, having already murdered the aunt and uncle, and now they’ve set their sights on the rest of the family.

(REVIEW)

Yup, it’s about the same as I remember: not good. But as I was watching this, I did come up with a drinking game. Take a shot for every time a character screams “Leave us alone!” and slowly zooms-in on something that does nothing, but is trying to convince you that it’s scary. Then this movie will likely become a blast. But as I did not play my own drinking game I was bored.

Though I swear, you’d think this was the scariest movie of our age what with the audience I was watching this with. This movie had the most non-scary jump-scares that bored the crap out of me, but at least two girls are screaming their asses off. Jeez, I feel like I could have thrown a popcorn kernel at one of them and they’d piss themselves.

But I digress.

So first and foremost, no, this movie isn’t scary. It’s not even really uncomfortable, or creepy, or anything of that nature. The scares are so underwhelming that I’d rather call this… a slasher-drama, before calling it a slasher-horror. It’s not even all that suspenseful. Faces popping up from the shadows, LOUD NOISES WHEN IT WAS QUIET JUST A MINUTE AGO, and… somehow happy-peppy upbeat 80s pop-music playing while the masked killers be silent and “menacing.” Yeah, more than anything, I was annoyed by this movie than scared by it.

The strangers are not intimidating. Look, I get it. They’re those kind of killers. They enjoy the taunting, the teasing, the growing anxiety and rising of stress before executing the kill. I get it. Here’s the thing, plenty of cinematic slasher killers do this. Essentially, slasher films boil down to two types of stories: protagonists that we root for, or violence porn. Take, for obvious example, Jason Voorhees. The Friday the 13th films are known for one thing; seeing Jason kill a bunch of stupid teenagers. We’re not supposed to care about his victims. We just want to see them die in creative and grotesquely violent ways. It’s not my cup of tea, per se, but it’s essentially what the audience wants to see. On the flip side of the coin, you have something like The Conjuring films. We don’t root for the villain ghost or demon, or whatever. The focus is on the Warrens and their relationships with each other and those that they’re helping. We care about them because their characters are very well developed. So when something threatens them, we want to see them make it out by the end of the film. Essentially, if you’re going to make a slasher film, you need to follow either of these rules: make it about creative and gory kills, or make it about emotionally connectable characters. This film does neither. The deaths are stabs. That’s… pretty much it until the end, which doesn’t get any more or less creative.

Subtract the creative violence, what does the math equal out to? Good characters. We don’t get that either. The family is way too generic. The dad is the dad, the mom is the mom, the son is the prodigal son who plays baseball and does cause trouble, and the daughter is a rebellious teenager who smokes and doesn’t give a fuck. There is zero depth to any of them. So when someone gets axed off, or is being stalked by the strangers, you feel neither suspense, nor sadness, let alone fear.

Some of the characters can be pretty stupid too. The opening death scene is a stranger breaking into an old woman’s trailer home and she neither screams, nor freaks out. Any normal person would be screaming, threatening to call the cops, grabbing the nearest object to throw or swing with. But nope, it’s a casual, “What are you doing here?” Oh, and the dad, Mike (Martin Henderson), a grown ass male adult somehow doesn’t know what a queef is. As Kinsey and Luke explore the trailer park, Kinsey totally just walks into a strange trailer and yanks out a bottle of Jack Daniels and offers Luke a shot or two. Yes, just break into someone’s home and steal their booze. Classy, girl. Yes, I know, everyone is either dead, or got out of dodge, but neither of these two know that. For all they know, the people who lived there were sleeping in the other room.

The villains don’t fare much better. When the family makes themselves at home in their trailer, Dollface (Emma Bellomy) twice knocks on their door and asks if someone is home. Um… SO SCARY!!! AMERICAN AUDIENCES AREN’T READY!!! Give me a break, movie. The intimidation is already laughable at best, try to avoid being annoying. Oh and Pin-up Girl (Lea Enslin) is totally useless. She shows her face once, then dies in her next scene. She does nothing in this movie.

It’s also not particularly directed very well, though most of that may just be personal taste. Remember the opening death scene I mentioned? The old woman has a dog who seems WAY too calm around strangers. I might believe that a dog won’t bark at a stranger, but they’ll make a fuss. They’ll get up, clatter their nails on the ground, breathing heavily, which makes enough sound for someone within earshot of their ruckus to tell them to shut up. Yet, this dog is completely calm and accepting. I’m calling bullshit! It’s not even the last we see of the dog, either. In another scene, Kinsey and Luke hear some loud banging in a closed room. They open the door and somehow, it’s the dog. It’s not clawing at the door, it’s not panting, it’s not whimpering, these are full on fist-on-door bangings. Horror-101, writers: fake-outs are annoying, not scary.

I didn’t agree with the technical aspects. Was it just me, or was the movie’s film quality on par with a VHS tape? The image was really grainy. Maybe it was just the movie theater I was in? Or was that by design. If that was just the theater I was in, then never mind, no points deducted. But if that was intentional… why? This movie doesn’t take place in any particular VHS-dominant decade, so… why the choice in film grain? If anything, it just makes it harder to make out what’s happening and my focus isn’t on the characters or the action, but rather the machine gun assault on my eyes of black dots.

The soundtrack seriously doesn’t fit the movie. I know there’s a trend in movies where a good soundtrack can make the experience more enjoyable, get you pumped, or what have you. In this case, to probably showcase a twisted sense of humor. But here’s the thing, I work a day job. Specifically a restaurant. So if I have to listen to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler one more fucking time, I’ll put on a sack bag and go on a murder spree. I hear this song every fucking day for the last three to four years and I was sick of it the first time. In any case, forget that I say anything about the song choice, as that can be pretty subjective. How is listening to this upbeat pop music making any of the death or fight scenes any funnier? This is all assuming the movie was even going for a dark comedy feel. If it’s supposed to up the suspense, then there’s your joke right there because it doesn’t. So… the fuck?

Alright, so I must clearly not like this movie, right? Total pass? Eh, I can’t claim that there weren’t a few things I didn’t like.

For one thing, as little depth as there is to these characters, I did find myself liking Luke. He’s not the stereotypical brother you’d find in this film. The cliché would be that he’s a bully who thinks just as little of his trouble-making little sister as the parents do. But no, he does seem to genuinely care about her, supports her when he needs to, leaps to her defense, is protective of her when the situation calls for him to be so, he’s not the most incompetent character of the movie. In fact, the sibling relationship between Luke and Kinsey is arguably the most human this movie gets. They give each other shit, annoy each other, but they share laughs, memories, and open up to each other, making for a surprisingly heartfelt dynamic. I won’t say it’s anything that’ll make you cry, it’s not that amazing, but for how boring this movie is, the drama in this area of the characters and their relationships are done very well by comparison.

Overall, this is a pretty bad flick. No scares, few thrills, tons of tropes, frustrating characters, equally weak villains, among many other problems. I like some interactions, but they don’t really save the flick too much. But I am a fan of Hendricks, and am happy to see Madison in a starring role, so here’s hoping that she gets more, but better roles. The only way I can recommend this movie is if you play my drinking game. Otherwise, rental at best, but even then, you won’t miss much if you skip it entirely. Let us pray… that we don’t see anymore strangers.

My honest rating for THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT: a weak 3/5

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