I wrote an article a few months ago when the trailer for The Strangers: Prey At Night dropped, and overall my expectations have not changed. In the car, I came up with a list of said expectations of the movie so I could compare and contrast what I was about to view after I got out. Overall, it can all be summed up easily as jump scare central, cheesy eighties references, and chases. I went in full knowing I was not going to get the same movie I fell in love with a few years ago, and was willing to accept that as I am not opposed to jump scares in films, in fact I believe that they can be done rather well. I suppose you could say, I expected something much more like Friday the 13th than the original Strangers.
Even with standards set so low, I cannot begin to explain how disappointed I was.
If you have seen the original, do you remember what you liked about it? Was it the creepy old record player filling the room to set the atmosphere? Was it the eerie subtly of the way the strangers crept into the house? The way you didn’t know where they were until you looked at it again? The way they camouflaged into the background, and were silent killers?
SURPRISE! Whatever it was, wave goodbye, because you won’t be seeing it again.
We start off the movie already on an awful misstep. (I was going to insert a comparison but I can not find the same title that was in the movie, as it is different than on the poster.) The title card and entire introduction is something which looked like a sad attempt at Alfred Hitchcock, which ended up looking more like the introduction to the 1995 Goosebumps series. Normally this nitpicking would not be something I would make a big deal about, but it truly did set the tone for the movie.
After a “surprise” death in the beginning, and after the horrid title card, we meet the family which is full of all the usual stereotypes. Moody teenage girl, hot mom, dorky and oblivious dad, and the sporty teenage son. Okay, I can handle these cliches, they are a well known cliche in the paranormal haunted house subgenre. The thing which bothered me wasn’t the cliche, however, but the caricature of it. It seemed as if the family was intentionally exaggerated, which earned an eye roll from me. But, I could handle it. They’re going to die anyway...or, maybe they’ll develope into something more.
Without spoiling too much of the movie (if you wish to view it) I would like to coin the rest of the beginning, middle, and end as an act of cinematic abuse. The way Prey at Night was shot was amusing, in the way that it looked like whoever operated the camera had just learned how to zoom in for emphasis. It seemed as though every few minutes, there would be something the camera wanted to emphasize eve if they did not need to do it. And it wasn’t even simple close ups, no sir/ma’am, it was slow zooms inward on faces of main characters in broad light,slow zooms on objects, there was even once where it zoomed in on nothing at all. They lended nothing to the audience's knowledge and became overall annoying.
And remember in the trailer when they made it pretty clear that the film would ride the eighties bandwagon to it’s death? Did it ever. I lost count of how many songs were played, but it had to be more than four, maybe five. It was shoved in your face so much that it was like visiting one of those tacky haunted attractions that used neon lights to distort your vision. The franchise- if you could even call it a franchise- took a complete 180 from the original from the get go. It was as if they looked at the movie at the last minute, and asked themselves-
“Hey, Bill, the eighties trend is big right now! How about we toss in a few references?”
And if you thought bright pink and neon green was enough to burn your senses, there’s more!
Jump scares never bothered me, in fact I liked them when done well. The problem with this is, they’re so easy to get wrong.
I’d be lying to say I didn’t jump once or twice, but that was all, and that was at the very beginning. Through out 90% of the movie, you are sitting there anticipating the jumpscare, and when it comes, it’s underwhelming. The film relies so heavily on it that they incorporate it so often, and it eventually becomes insignificant and leaves nothing left to give. If there was ever a film to encapsulate why relying on jump scares is bad, it is this one.
By the time the end came, I was wondering just what the hell I had paid to see. The story was confusing, and lended no knowledge to the movie whatsoever. We never find out about the strangers, nor do we find out about the characters. The film was just a vague plot pieced together with the only good horror movie to not have a sequel (and for good reason, clearly) and characters placed into the plot just to be killed off- literally! They served no purpose other than to be gutted!
I have never watched a movie and thought to myself that if I left in the middle, I would not miss something until I sat down in that theater of four (including myself). Again, I made no mistake in hoping for something like the first because it was advertised quite differently, but even then I was left disappointed, saddened, and even regretful.
The reason the first movie was so good was because it preyed not on the senses, but on the unknown. It allowed audiences to gravel in the way we knew things that the couple in the film did not. It fed off of the idea of realism, even with the Strangers moving in a way that was abnormally silent. The reason the first movie was so good was because of it’s minimalist design, the quiet house, the old record player, the fear of the unknown, and the knowledge that what happened to the couple in the film could happen to anyone.
Strangers: Prey At Night was so absurd that it was laughable. The original stood alone just fine, and hopefully the film will be forgotten. It is a sad excuse for a sequel, and even if, by any means, it comes to be revealed that this whole film was a joke, I will still regret giving that film my money.