Strangers: Prey At Night Review
At its best, Strangers: Prey At Night shows us a strained family dynamic in the first half of its brief runtime. At its worst Strangers: Prey At Night is a dull film that could have been stranger. The plot is fairly simple enough. It follows a family of four that is struggling to function after signing the daughter up for boarding school. They take a trip to a camping site where they expect to bond. Instead, things are severed when three masked killers arrive.
The family has an interesting dynamic and there are some good performances from Christina Hendricks as the concerned mother, Cindy, and Bailee Madison as Kinsey, the rebellious daughter who is at odds with her family. However, it is strangely cut short, and much of our connection to the protagonists is lost as they continue to do predictable and tension-breaking things.
The power is out after a gruesome find in a camper van, so after establishing that, the first thing the dad checks the phone line. With a dead body in the bathroom, we expect the villains have cut the phone line. Things are also made obvious to us. I was disappointed when the son conveniently remembered that the uncle kept a gun in a specific cupboard (and had to mention it out loud, just to tell the audience). This is basic, Tension 101 on what-to-avoid, and its inclusion ruins the immersion. He should have found that gun while scrambling through cupboards to save his life.
We end up rooting for neither side, because while the family makes bad decisions, the villains make… no decisions. They just do things. Wearing masks is no excuse for villains to be distant to the audience: Michael Myers, Freddy, Jason and even Jigsaw have worn masks, and they’re slasher film icons. Instead of having personality through their actions or words, these villains are benign and cookie-cutter. What are they even doing here, anyway? Pennywise, the clown from It, lived in Derry because it was an easy place to feed on children. The strangers in this film just show up at the camping site. They have no motive, no stake, and the film tries to go with it in the end (they’re psychopaths!) to a poor result.
The biggest sin of this film is that the kills aren’t particularly creative. Aside from an oddly slow yet brief scene involving a flaming truck, there’s nothing fun about the attacks. People come to slasher movies expecting clever ways to kill, performed by an interesting villain. Instead, the action is subdued where it should be terrifying. This is a film that plays it far too safe, and consequentially, the audience becomes bored when it should be at the edge of its seat.