The Strangers: Prey at Night (**1/2) not too hard

strangers__prey_at_night__2018_

The Strangers Prey At Night – 2018

Director Johannes Roberts
Screenplay
Bryan Bertino, Ben Katai
Starring Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman

The Stangers was a pleasant surprise in 2008. The premise that 3 people could come from nowhere and torture a family living in a location that is just remote enough just because they were home. The acting is not the best, but the pacing is good enough to reel you in. By the time the young couple gets to the point where they’re completely at the mercy of the creepy trio, the viewer feels pretty helpless.

The premise is set on its side this time as the killers take over a vacation trailer park that is run by an older couple. They’re killed in the first few frames. Why do the killers stick around for a day or so?  Because someone leaves a message saying they’ll be there with the family after dark.

This time, though there is no such thing as pace in the film. Roberts seems to have no real idea of timing between locations, characters or events. Instead, what we see this time are decent actors pretending they don’t understand the concept of self-defense. One would settle for let’s get the hell out of there at the first sign of trouble, even.

The family targeted for the bulk of the film is taking their youngest (Madison) to a boarding school for being Lisa Simpson on a bender. A full day after Aunt and Uncle are DOA, their family arrives in the middle of the night. Instead of going right up to their address, they go to the office, where they see a key with a number on the counter. Then they check in. I have had some late nights before, but never quite had a check in this contrived.

Pin-Up Girl knocks on the door, asks for someone they don’t know. She wanders off like a creeper. Soon enough, the angry young daughter runs off, mom sends older brother after her. People Pin-Up Girl knocks on the door again. Only now does someone think there might be something up.

I like a good scare. I like a well staged attempted murder. The Strangers Prey At Night provides some of each. The big problem is that there is no sense of place or tracking. There is no Michael Meyers stalking you from one house, across the street to another. The trio of killers left over from the first film mostly just show up whenever the plot requires one to be there, with no thought to the logistics, entry points or exits.

The worst scene involves the old jack in the box trope. Why someone would go into a seemingly abandoned room where one of those damn things is mid-song and actually get on the ground and pick it up is beyond me.

If this film surprises, it’s because the same character that can do something brilliant or defiant in one frame can do something completely brainless the next. This is for both predator and prey. The film is basically a bunch of set pieces, like above. One person in terror and a Stranger in the background, silent, menacing.

If this film catches the viewer at the right time, it could be effective. The best thing about the first film – the hapless victim stuck in a place where they should feel safe – is absent this time around. Instead we have running, screaming, house to house hiding, scare, then repeat. Not great, but it beats working.

(**1/2)

 

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