Movie Review: 'The Strangers: Prey At Night' (2018)

When your predecessor is the scariest movie of all-time, there are bound to be expectations. No one could have reasonably thought “The Strangers” could go back-to-back with two equally unnerving installments though. In fact, the idea of a sequel is such a tall order, it would have been even more reasonable than usual to have let a stand-alone movie, remain just that. Because no sequel could have stood outside its ominous shadow.

“The Strangers: Prey at Night” subverts a lot of the expectations brought about by its predecessor. In many ways, the long-gestating follow-up breaks away from most everything that made the original such an uncompromising and indelibly scary movie. It is also because of that, it manages to create some pleasant surprises.

Watching the first “Strangers” is a relentlessly frightening experience. Its portrayal of the somber calm and calculated cruelty of three masked assailants marks one of the genre's most provocative entries. The 2008 film, broke away from “slasher-dom” with an installment that featured equal parts psychological and physical warfare.

In "The Strangers," the eerie and unnerving entrance of these villains is not only disturbing. It also evokes sheer terror. After watching, the chill running down one's spine fails to subside long after it is over. “The Strangers” is quite simply one of the most frightening movies ever made.

Its sequel abandons what made its predecessor so startling. For instance, instead of remaining chillingly silent, The Strangers talk rather frequently, and that is not where the differences end. Where the original incarnations of these terrifying entities, feels frighteningly fraught in reality -- the sequel’s versions do not. Instead, replaced by something almost supernatural. In many ways, “Prey at Night” breaks with what made the original so scary. Accordingly, it is less scary.

“Prey at Night” follows a family as they arrive at a mobile home park for a brief getaway. The mother, father, son, and troubled daughter have arrived to stay with some relatives. It is one last hurrah before they send the rebellious and patently disrespectful daughter to a boarding school to help get her back on track.

We never learn what she did to arrive at this point. While hints are dropped, and a big reveal feels imminent, nothing happens. To the script's credit, there are a few shockers. Those viewers will be relieved to see, also wreak of plot-driven devices meant to appease those desiring a more hopeful narrative. Even though it feels forced and off-canon. Had the story been drawn in a manner that made a better outcome more believable it would not be an issue.

While they are dressed the same, these are not the original "strangers." The only way to rectify the differences is to assume the horrific villains in “Prey at Night” are copycats. A trio inspired by the well-publicized crimes carried out by separate evildoers in the first movie. Otherwise, you will give yourself a headache trying to justify the discrepancies in their behavior.

The cast playing the family, all give powerful performances. Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson spark believable chemistry as a married couple, whilst conveying strong paternal energy. As their kids, Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman also give great performances that elevate the tension. Even as their characters make one silly choice after another.

As “Prey at Night” builds towards it alarmingly unrealistic crescendo, the movie dives headlong into its surrealistic daze. The chilling real feel of the original's inevitable dread is replaced with a more commercial feel-good version. A development that would be excellent, if it made sense.

The final minutes of “Prey at Night” will have you preparing for a "nightmarish" reveal. Something that could have saved its final chapter from feeling entirely forced. It is to no avail.

If “Prey at Night” was a new film devoid of canon, you would have nothing to compare it too. It is part of that scary movie legacy though. With that being said, it will scare you more than the average movie designed to do so, will.

Rating: 5.5/10

As of October 2018, “The Strangers: Prey at Night” is streaming on Amazon Prime.

[Featured Image by Aviron Pictures]

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