Director Johannes Roberts
Cast Christina Hendricks, Bailey Madison, Martin Henderson, Emma Bellomy
Release Date March 9th, 2018
From director Johannes Roberts (The Other Side of the Door, 47 Meters Down), Strangers: Prey at Night is the sequel to the 2008 horror thriller The Strangers that became a cult classic. The original film wasn’t all that well received by critics but I think they got it wrong. The cast includes Christina Hendricks, Bailey Madison, Martin Henderson, and Lewis Pullman.
Poorly written and at times painfully predictable, The Strangers: Prey at Night has potential, but inevitably falls well short of its predecessor. I’ll be honest, I had relatively high expectations for this film because I really enjoyed the original. I felt like it was a genuinely disturbing horror thriller that felt real making it that much more authentic, and in the process more terrifying. I felt like the decisions the characters made during the worst night of their lives made sense, or at the very least seemed like the decisions people that were fighting for their lives would make. Yet, for reasons that I can’t figure out for the life of me, instead of bringing back the original screenwriter the studio brings in Ben Ketai to write the script, which is supposed to draw inspiration from Bryan Bertino’s screenplay from the original (which he also directed). Instead, Ketai decided he would dumb things down significantly for Prey at Night to the point where the audience is either bored, annoyed, or both. I mean how many times can you shake your head due to so many inconsistencies and still enjoy a movie? The plot is simple and the stage is set, just have fun with it and make the characters feel real. I did read an interview where the question was asked whether this film is really based on true events, and apparently Ketai drew the inspiration from a time where some strange girl knocked on his door, but beyond that the film is inspired by the Manson murders. I think this guy needs some inspiration, badly. Perhaps it had something to do with cast limitations or studio pressure, or even just rewrites that absolutely butchered what started as a quality script.
I hate to say it but I do blame the writing, and I think this falls on the shoulders of Ketai considering he is in fact one of the writers responsible for yet another horror film that failed to meet expectations, the Natalie Dormer horror The Forest (2016). That film shared many of the same “are you f’ing kidding me” moments making it nearly impossible for it to be scary or all that enjoyable. I mean talk about the perfect setting for a horror film, the suicide forest is a real place and it is seriously messed up, yet the script made it feel so unscary half the people who saw The Forest decided to make visiting the suicide forest a bucket list item simply out of spite (this is an exaggeration but probably not that far from the truth). Another big issue, why is this movie rated R?! I mean really, this could have been given a PG-13 rating easily. Boy, do I miss the good old days of 80’s slasher movies, simple and effective. Such a waste. Now I will commend director Johannes Roberts because I honestly think he did a fantastic job, and I also really liked the cinematography, score, and soundtrack, which is another reason why I am so annoyed - this movie could have and should have been really good!! I could go on and on shredding the things the characters did in Prey at Night that made zero sense, but I need to keep this review spoiler free - I mean after all my word is my bond. Damn you Ketai, damn you, damn you, damn you.
The casting decisions for The Strangers: Prey at Night didn’t dig too deep into the talent pool of Hollywood, but that isn’t really atypical of a horror movie. The beautifully redheaded and former Mad Men actress Christina Hendricks leads the way and she is great, I have nothing bad to say about her performance. It is clear from the beginning she is the most talented actress in the group and I can’t knock her for lack of effort. But again, she is handed limited resources. Now I come to Bailee Madison who is given the majority of the screen time in the film even though she is primarily a T.V. actress. She has played a few pivotal supporting roles, including a role in the drama Brothers alongside Natalie Portman, but the fact remains, she is an average actress at best. In Prey for Night she is put on the forefront which combined with poor writing is NOT a good thing. I’m not saying she was absolutely horrible in her role, but she wasn’t great and certainly didn’t deserve to be the main focus. But to be fair Ben Ketai’s writing did make Natalie Dormer come across like a D-list actress in The Forest, so who knows. But hey, Madison is cute so that’s a plus. The cast is rounded out by Martin Henderson and Lewis Pullman, both of which are average at best which is again in large part due to the script. I’m not even going to bother talking too much about the three psychopaths Dollface, Pin-Up Girl, or Man in the Mask (as they are credited on IMDb), because let’s be honest they didn’t have to dig all that deep into their bag of acting talents for their respective roles. Just to reiterate, the blame does not fall entirely on the cast. A better script with this same cast could produce a very good movie, I have zero doubt.
The Strangers: Prey at Night fails to be an effective horror thriller for a number of reasons, but the potential it had coming out of the gate is undeniable. The fact that it has been a decade since the original film made its debut, providing ample time to get things right, makes it that much more disappointing that we were still delivered this lackluster excuse of a movie. I really enjoyed director Johannes Roberts shark attack thriller 47 Meters Down, as well as his horror film The Other Side of the Door which I suggest people check out, so I will do my best not to hold this film against him. According to his IMDb filmography he is working on the sequel, 48 Meters Down, set to release sometime in 2019 so I am looking forward to that. I will on the other hand hold this against Ben Ketai and I will be extra careful about any future horror films he has his name attached to. The Strangers: Prey at Night isn’t unwatchable, and honestly if you went in with low expectations and the understanding that the writing is just bad, you may really enjoy it for the ironic music and generally great horror movie setting (I mean really, what’s scarier than an abandoned trailer park?). Either way, you would be wise to wait and check this one out when it becomes available On-Demand and for rental.