With titles like Halloween, The Predator, Hellraiser: Judgement, Insidious: The Last Key, and The Strangers: Prey at Night, among a few others, sequels seem to be the theme of horror movies in 2018. And while several of those horror movies, like Hellraiser, are largely considered among the worst of 2018, Prey at Night was considerably better than its 2008 predecessor, and it’s a solid sequel.
Like the original, it claims to be based on a true story, but keep in mind, it’s loosely based on crimes (both local crimes and murders committed by the Charles Manson cult) that inspired writer-director Bryan Bertino to make the first installment. Kind of like how Ed Gein inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Silence of the Lambs; the three are very different tales, but they all are loosely based on the same true story (it’s a great marketing tool but, kind of, deceiving).
The horror flick is currently available to purchase on many VOD platforms, including Xfinity On Demand and Vudu, and it will be available to rent starting next month. (Below is the review of the unrated version of the film.)
The movie is directed by Johannes Roberts, and it stars Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Lewis Pullman, and a stand-out performance by Bailee Madison. Of course, the trio of strangers also returns, but this time they are portrayed by a different set of actors: Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei), Pin-Up Girl (Lea Enslin), and Dollface (Emma Bellomy).
Fandango provides the premise for one of the most underrated horror movies of the year.
“A family’s road trip takes a dangerous turn when they arrive at a secluded mobile home park to stay with some relatives and find it mysteriously deserted. Under the cover of darkness, three masked psychopaths pay them a visit to test the family’s every limit as they struggle to survive. Johannes Roberts directs this horror film inspired by the 2008 smash hit The Strangers.”
The problem with home invasion horror movies is that while they may be terrifying, they are terrifying for all the wrong reasons. Often, these films feature a killer, or group of killers, murdering family members one by one in a very realistic way, and they feel like a snuff film. They often don’t feature any survivors, like a final girl, and if someone does survive, it’s simply because they didn’t bleed to death (like the 2008 Strangers). This gratuitous violence isn’t a lot of fun to watch.
But there are exceptions, like You’re Next, Hush, and as a pleasant surprise, The Strangers: Prey at Night. This story is really about Kinsey and a transformation she must make if she is going to survive the night. The first act of the film is the basic setup; we watch the family on their road trip to the trailer park, and the director makes sure we understand that Kinsey (Madison) is an angst-filled teen. She’s a teenager that is going through some rough problems, and it’s costing her parents money that they can’t afford.
The family finally arrives at the park about 25 minutes into the film, and that’s when the suspense begins (i.e. the first knock). At first, this horror flick is disguised as the typical home invasion routine; some people get murdered in dramatic fashion, and it is a bit unnerving to watch. It should be mentioned that part of the reason this is unsettling is because of the stellar performance by Bailee Madison (you may remember her performance as the adorable little kid in Bridge to Terabithia, and she also stars in the TV series Good Witch).
Kinsey’s emotions truly transcend the screen, and you will likely be sad or terrified when she is (in the video below, the gifted actor explains how she was legitimately afraid in certain scenes). She flows seamlessly throughout a myriad of emotions, and the audience watches her transform from victim to fighter. Which brings us to the last and best part of the movie.
The third act is when things really get entertaining. The film shifts from what appears to be the generic home invasion flick to a cat-and-mouse from the slasher days of horror. Some dark humor is interjected, a little bit of cheese, and some high-quality suspense. All of a sudden, the angst-filled teenager is more than a helpless victim paralyzed in fear, and we watch a phoenix rise from the ashes.
Now, this actually feels like a cinematic experience rather than a snuff film we shouldn’t be watching (and because of this, Prey at Night becomes rewatchable). What also makes this stand apart from other horror movies made in a similar vein is that it doesn’t all take place in a house, or in this case, a trailer (most of the film is shot outside the home).
But a horror movie is only as good as its villain, or in this case, villains. The group of psychos is indeed creepy, and they have moments where they are absolutely scary. And while the Man in the Mask could use a better name, he definitely works as the primary horror baddie; with gestures featuring creepy nuances, he even makes the silly mask look scary (of course, dragging an ax on the gravel helps with that).
With neon lights and a soundtrack featuring hit songs from the “Decade of Excess,” the film and the three killers (who love finding ’80s hits on the radio) seem fascinated with the decade; if you’re a fan of that cheesy era, then you should find many shots simply stunning (in particular, one involving a pool containing a fluid trail of blood, neon palm trees, and the song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler).
The story builds to a solid ending that is somewhat rare in this subgenre of horror. To avoid any spoilers, but to give a small hint, don’t expect the same generic ending as most home invasion horror flicks. The final shot is one that could be translated in a couple of different ways, and often, that’s the very point of art (it works really well in this movie). While this may not beg for a third installment, this sequel is certainly more effective and thought-provoking than the original.
With a good amount of suspense, a brilliant performance by the lead actor, and great directing, The Strangers: Prey at Night is one of the most entertaining horror movies of 2018.