Monday, July 30, 2018

Because You Were STILL Home

2008's The Strangers remains a minor gem of its error. Nicely shot and surprisingly bleak, it worked on its own terms. For whatever reason, it's taken a good decade for a followup. Let's see if the wait was worth it.

Quick Plot: After about five minutes worth of production company logos, we visit a quiet, nearly empty mobile home encampment. An older couple is sleeping with their apparently deaf and cute but incredibly useless dog when a stranger knocks on the door. Bad things happen. To everyone BUT the dog.

A few hundreds of miles a way, a downtrodden family of four makes their way towards our recent victims. Mom Cindy (the always lovely Christina Hendricks) and dad Mike are trying to give their rebellious teenage daughter Kinsey a new start at a boarding school. Better adjusted big brother Luke is along for the ride. 

Before the family has had time to settle in for the night, the trio of stab-happy killers who terrorized Liv Tyler a decade ago are back, masks in place and sharp objects in hand. What follows is a lot of stalking, some awful driving, and a bevy of terrible decisions made by frantic prey.

Filling in for The Strangers’ director Bryan Bertino is Johannes Roberts, he of 47 Meters Down. Like the first film, Prey At Night has a better cast than you might often find in your run-of-the-mill slasher. While we don’t get Arthur Miller levels of family drama, Ben Ketai’s script helps to flesh out our characters well enough that the stakes are felt. Cindy and Mike are a tired but loving couple feeling frustrated at the path their daughter is going down, while Kinsey gets actual moments of growth over the course of one horrible night in recognizing what a bratty teenager she’s been. There’s also something touching about how Luke deals with the situation, being a genuinely nice kid who’s not quite at the kind of place where he can pull the trigger on another human being.

I liked The Strangers well enough, and have similar feelings on its sequel. The simple design of the killers is visually interesting. I cared enough about the characters to be invested in their plight, even if I occasionally wanted to reach into the screen to wring the neck of seemingly capable people making mistake after mistake. 

High Points
As far as settings go, an empty trailer park goes a long way. Rob makes great use out of the cheapness of the interiors, showing just how easy it is for a strong hunter to break through walls. Equally effective is the use of a swimming pool and its tacky neon lighting

Low Points

Lessons Learned
In slasher situations, don’t even bother calling the police. They’ll send one yokel with no spacial awareness who will inevitably be gutted before he even has the chance to tell a screaming woman to calm down

Deny a little sister her chance on the baseball field and she will take that anger and turn it into something truly powerful

For goodness sake, when being chased, already remember a simple tip: Serpentine! Serpentine!

Look! It’s—
Bailee Madison, probably better known as the grouchy little girl in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and as Clementine the elf in a set of Hallmark Christmas movies, but will forever to me be a key guest star in one of the greatest Law & Order: SVU episodes to ever feature a deranged Joan Cusack giving nose jobs to a 7-year-old

Also, DOUBLE LOOK! It’s—
Three key members of Night of the Living Podcast, enjoying a bite as extras

Prey At Night is a worthy sequel to The Strangers. Much like the first film, it doesn't break any ground, but works for how it narrows its focus on a small but sympathetic group of soon-to-be victims while terrorizing them with scary stabbings and odd but effective style choices. It's a rainy day rental.

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