The Strangers as an excellent, minimalist horror film. The senseless violence portrayed without explanation was a clean break from the mainstream horror movies that came before it. I wrote about it with love in my heart. And then I rewatched it. The night before I saw the sequel Prey At Night I took a walk down memory lane and cued up the first film.
And it was bad.
Don’t get me wrong, the dread and slowly ramped up tension of the first half is fantastic, but everything goes downhill as soon as Scott Speedman shoots a (poorly utilized) Glenn Howerton. After that scene, the movie quickly devolves into a vaguely deadly game of hide in seek that culminates with a murder scene that is beyond boring. For a movie that’s about senseless murder, the stakes don’t actually feel that high.
The overwhelming original set the tone for an even worse sequel. Prey At Night shelves the slow burning tension, and instead goes for a lukewarm balls to the wall kind of horror. I hope you like watching people being chased, because there is an unlimited amount of chase scenes and they all look exactly the same. It’s like watching someone do the Pacer test. But before we get into the running, we’re introduced to an all American family. Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and Mike (Martin Henderson) are normal parents dealing with your average, though incredibly vague teen problems. Their daughter Kinsey has been kicked out of school and is being sent to a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. They use that as an excuse to pack up the station wagon and drag their high achieving son Luke along for the ride, transforming the whole thing into a family trip.
Like the original, Prey At Night infuses relationship drama into the horror. Characters start the movie on opposite sides of an argument, but the possibility of being hunted down by deranged killers manages to bring them closer together than ever before. It works incredibly well in the original, which kicks off with the implosion of a long term relationship that tinges the horror with a very real sadness. Prey At Night follows the same pattern, but in a lazier fashion. The original film gives you time to feel out Liv Tyler’s and Scott Speedman’s relationship, where as the sequel goes straight for meaningless cliche with troubled teens and overwhelmed parents. It’s not the only time in the film Prey At Night feels like an off brand version of the original film, but it’s one of most egregious examples.
What I really wanted from this movie was something a little more aware. You’re Next is the pinnacle of darkly funny home invasion films, and while I didn’t expect Prey At Night to be nearly as good, I was hoping that if director Johannes Roberts was going to copy anything, he would copy that. Unfortunately, The Prey At Night crew seems to be very at home with making an almost beat for beat worse version of the original, but there is one scene that captures some of the black humor You’re Next does so well. Mid film, Luke convinces his injured sister to hide while he finds a phone. He makes it to the main office at the trailer park and ends up in a battle between two of the strangers by the pool. Surrounded by neon palm trees, Luke drags the masked man underwater and fights for his life while “Total Eclipse of the Heart” reaches its crescendo. It’s the only good scene in the movie and it makes me long for the movie Prey At Night could have been.
If your idea of a good time is watching people run from one dark place to another, Prey At Night was made for you and I’m so glad you found it. But if you want a modern horror film with good gore and a clever script, just watch You’re Next.