The Strangers: Prey at Night Review
One of my favorite modern movies has been "The Strangers." I have always loved and admired that it is such a simple concept brought to the millionth degree. An isolated couple being attacked by masked lunatics seems like something done to death, and it certainly is. But what makes "The Strangers" stick out is the slow burn method of its storytelling, its rich character, and the characters themselves acting human for a change, you honestly don't know how rare that last point is until you've really pushed through many horror movies.
Bryan Bertino wrote and directed the first film. Now, ten years later, he has returned to make a sequel. A sequel, which is entitled "The Strangers: Prey at Night," takes a few more liberties than the first film did. It tries to more for humor, it tries more for a more exhilerating edge. You will notice that the font which is used for the title at the beginning of the film looks like it belongs in a John Carpenter movie. It doesn't bother me that Bertino is trying to have a little more fun with this new chapter, except he really went big with the first film. He really milked the atmosphere and the suspense with his first film. There is nothing thrilling, fun or funny about the first film, it commits to its seriousness. So when Bertino suddenly chooses to go grindhouse-ey with his new film, it feels wildly out-of-place.
He's working with some good actors again. Christina Hendricks plays Cindy, and Martin Hendersen (where the hell has this guy been??) plays Cindy's husband Mike. They have two children; Kinsey played by Bailee Madison and Luke played by Lewis Pullman. The family has decided to take on last summer vacation before Kinsey goes to boarding school. Turns out Kinsey is a bit of a wild child (how so is only really discussed in faint whispers) and so her parents have decided to send her away, which is killing Kinsey who doesn't want to go. As this family starts to fall apart, the familiar Strangers show up, using tactics exactly like they had in the first film, which I am sure will make fans of the first film giddy. Of course, the Strangers just want to show up and kill everyone because they are bored.
You would think that the dynamic of the family would really play into the films plot, but once the Strangers show up, any hardship or estrangement the family was experiencing gets thrown out the window and forgotten, its all development that goes nowhere. The small cast does what they can, but its all simple stuff that any actor could do. The two big guns are utterly wasted as actors here, and that's a shame too, because both Hendricks and Hendersen are great and can do anything. The kids got hired, apparently, because they do well with screaming.
There are some startling images and some intense situations that I think Bertino expertly brings to life. I just don't think the movie ever matches the creepy, unsettling vibe that the first film created. Remember though, Bertino made both films, so he's familiar with this story and these characters, I just think he did a lot more the first time around. In an odd way, it feels like the first film he made was the sequel, and this film feels like the first one. This one feels ragged and unsure of itself. It doesn't want to fully commit to any type of character development or story arc. It feels like a bunch of events and then its over. Some stuff is good, but its not nearly enough.
FINAL GRADE: C-