Movie Review: The Strangers: Prey at Night
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Director: Johannes Roberts
by Jason Koenigsberg
What starts out as a portrait of a dysfunctional American family quickly turns into an intense nightmare for the family being stalked by killers surrounded by darkness in The Strangers: Prey at Night, a sequel ten years later to the 2008 horror film The Strangers. I enjoyed the first one and this sequel works on its own as an exercise in tension and tone. The opening shot is of a street at night with heavy emphasis on a streetlight, a mailbox, and a subtle fog rising from the pavement, pretty common for a horror film. It paints an eerie picture early on and the few moments of levity in this film are immediately slashed once the killing starts to take place.
The cinematography of The Strangers: Prey at Night is very dark throughout, so much so that sometimes it is tough to tell what is happening onscreen but I think that was intentional. There is low key lighting everywhere and it helps the film establish its mood which is the greatest aspect of The Strangers: Prey at Night. This movie does a superb job at building tension. It creates an atmosphere so intense you can cut it with a knife. You may almost feel the masked killers stalking you that it makes you want to just turn on a light so you can feel better knowing that it is indeed just a movie. The atmosphere is reason this movie works so effectively and sets it apart from being just another run of the mill slasher flick. The fact that it can make the viewer feel uncomfortable in their seat speaks volumes for this movie.
Credit must really be given to the director and his actors. The Strangers: Prey at Night takes time developing characters in this quintessential dysfunctional family that the viewer can actually care about them. In the first thirty minutes we really get a chance to know the four subjects of the family unit that adds so much to the atmosphere once the sun sets and the evil takes center stage in the darkness. But they never let you get too comfortable, The Strangers: Prey at Night does not waste any time with the murders, once they start, and it feels like it starts earlier than most of its peer horror films, there is no going back and it a solid fifty minutes of running, chasing, hiding, and evading the masked psychopaths who stalk and kill with no motivation other than the fact that they can. Plus, the directors use of sound and pop songs serve as a trigger to when the violence will take place that adds to the terror instead of lightening the mood.
There is a lot of running around in this movie and it is very convenient for the killers, and the filmmakers, that this movie takes place in one of the most isolated and desolate trailer parks in the United States. Characters are screaming, music is being blasted, cars are revving their engines and crashing into things yet there is nobody except the family that is being hunted and the masked trio stalking them.
Also for a good chunk of the movie the characters do make some illogical decisions regarding a gun, and it takes them a lot longer than I thought it should for someone to finally try to get into a car and drive out of there instead of running around lost in the dark. The conveniences of the script hurt the final act which manages to throw in a curveball that only helps The Strangers 2 save face. The ending was a a letdown as an obvious rip off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), I am sure the director Johannes Roberts will call it an homage but it was a little too blatant for me. However the final scene and final shot really hit home that the horror is going to stay with these people for the rest of their lives which helps the audience take the fear they had in the theater outside with them once they leave. The Strangers: Prey at Night is not without its flaws, most of which come in the final twenty minutes, but it is a fine example of intense horror and how to create an atmosphere of unease.