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Strangers: Prey at Night, The
Well one thing's for sure: the Tomatometer and audience scores are even less impressive, sitting at thirty-eight and forty percent respectively. Why do I keep mentioning Tomatometer scores? Simply put, I believe they're meaningless. That may sound hypocritical since I, too, am a critic, but aggregate scoring systems do not make or break the quality of a film. If that were true, Bad Boys 2 wouldn't be an awesome action romp, Billy Madison wouldn't be a comedy worth seeing, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective wouldn't have spring boarded Jim Carrey to superstardom. So when it comes to this sequel, all you have to do is ask yourself if you were firmly in the ‘I loved The Strangers' camp or not. If you were, then you're probably going to enjoy its sequel.
If you've never seen the original, don't worry. Prey at Night never references it, as director Johannes Roberts wanted his take to stand on its own. Even so, the formula is very similar. Some people - in this case, a family of four - are housed in the middle of nowhere when a girl shows up after dark and knocks on the door. "Is Tamara home?" The family assumes the girl has the wrong place and sends her on her merry way. When the girl shows up again, they get the idea that something is wrong, and their concern is fully realized when they stumble upon a couple of dead bodies and find their phones have been smashed to bits. From that point on, the family is forced into a deadly game of cat and mouse with three masked assailants, and they are woefully inexperienced and unequipped to deal with the situation.
For the uninitiated, ‘The Strangers' are, we assume, a family. The father wears a sack over his face; eye holes have been cut open and a single markered line conveys an emotionless expression. The mother and daughter wear creepy plastic masks, and are known as Pin-Up Girl and Dollface respectively. Why do they do this to people? Thanks to trailers for the previous film, we know there isn't a motive. They do this for kicks and giggles, and that's what make them all the more terrifying. You can't bribe or reason with them, and they love to toy with their prey. They may let you escape on occasion to maintain the thrill of the hunt, but unless you're crafty, there's no hope for survival. That was their shtick last time, and it's how they roll this time too. They're fantastic to watch, the only caveat being that Pin-Up Girl is severely underutilized. Otherwise, they do their job quite well. They aren't just anonymous slashers, but antagonists that control the film's pace. They're to have things unravel slowly until the final act when things go from dire to hopeless, and while they do that for the first two-thirds of the movie, it's actually the protagonists that have a say in how things play out in the finale.
And speaking of the protagonists, their backstory isn't exactly riveting. The parents are sending their troubled teenage daughter to boarding school and this creates a rift. The daughter wants nothing to do with her parents and assumes her brother is glad to see her go. This is unfortunately similar to the previous film, at least thematically. There's something to be said about taking people for granted until it's too late, because sometimes, sadly, that's what it takes to realize how much we mean to each other… but what good is that appreciation when you're only going to watch each other slip away mere moments later? I guess the only thing more terrifying than dying is how you leave people behind, and while that's an effective device for enhancing fear (too little, too late), I would have preferred something a bit more original.
But this family at least has some tenacity. Yes, they still make a bunch of stupid mistakes, but I don't really count that as a negative. Who's to say we wouldn't do the same when we're scared out of our minds and hopped up on adrenaline? Even so, what makes these protagonists different is that when push comes to shove, they gain the will to fight back (in the last half-hour or so). This creates a drastically different finale than the audience would expect, and it's a welcome change at that.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is still a relentless home invasion flick, so to answer the original question, yes, I'd say that the wait for this sequel is definitely worth it. Despite the director's intentions, it doesn't do much to differ itself from its predecessor… but it does enough. Instead of a gritty 70's vibe, this film is decidedly more 80's. Watching terror ensue while Total Eclipse of the Heart or I Think We're Alone Now is playing just works, and makes everything more fun and sadistic at the same time. Of course it's worth repeating that if you weren't a fan of the original - which I think is superior overall - you should probably stay away from this one. Everyone else, you're in for a treat!
The Strangers: Prey at Night slashes its way onto Blu-ray with a 1080p, AVC encoded presentation at an aspect ratio of 2.38:1. It's definitely competent, if not more so, but it does have a few things which keep it from looking amazing.
This is a very dark film, as it should be, but because it takes place in the evening where there's very little in the way of light, much of the ‘good stuff' isn't given much of an opportunity to shine. I'm talking fine detail, colors, and contrast. That's not to say that the image isn't mostly sharp and that fine details aren't great when there's enough light to support it, it's just that they're hindered a lot by artistic intent. I will say that black levels look quite good throughout, but there are times where inkiness is sacrificed for general detail. As a result of the film's dark nature, certain shots can look a bit noisy, but that's par for the dimly lit course. There are moments where contrast, detail, and color really sizzle though. There's a notable sequence which involves a truck that's on fire, and better yet, a courtyard with a brightly lit pool and plenty of neon lights around it. It's during moments like these where detail and depth are able to leap off the screen, but these moments are few and far between. Skin tones are generally good as well.
There's nothing that indicates to me that there's anything wrong with this disc from a technical standpoint. This dark film also features plenty of outdoor fog, and I never noticed any swirling noise, excessive blocking, or banding. The Strangers: Prey at Night is inherently not a film to show off your home theater, but I have no reason to believe that we aren't getting the best possible presentation that Blu-ray can provide. I'm curious to see how much more the few highlights could ‘pop' with a 4K release, but sadly, there doesn't seem to be one in sight.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track on this release is pretty darn good. From the moment the opening song kicks in, you know that this mix has been given the attention it deserves. The music actually makes complete use of the soundstage, and I was surprised to hear my rears be as active as they were.
I wasn't disappointed as I progressed through the film either. For optimal scare effect, sound effects carry weight and are directionally precise. Gunshots sound uncomfortably real, stab effects are squeamishly/realistically subtle, vehicle engines are only a few horse power away from belonging in a Mad Max film, and dialogue is always the top priority.
The supplemental package in this release is incredibly weak. There's no commentary track, and sadly, that could have been the best piece. This director took The Strangers: Prey at Night in a slight different direction and to hear his thought process would have been nice. What we've been given instead is a handful of extras which all fall under three minutes apiece.
-Theatrical and Unrated Cuts: Run time is the same. The only difference is additional blood, courtesy of CGI. Personally, I prefer the theatrical cut.
-Music Video: Prep for the Night
-A Look Inside The Strangers: Prey at Night
-Family Fights Back
-The Music of The Strangers: Prey at Night
The Strangers: Prey at Night comes dangerously close at times to being like its predecessor, but it twists things enough to be just different enough, yet still frighteningly entertaining. The most notable change is having a family that fights back - not exactly a spoiler since it's listed in the supplements - and the payoff is huge. Other than the final act, you can expect a nice steady pace of slowly ramping tension, and by the time all is said and done, you're going to want to watch it again… but only if you were a fan of the original film. If you didn't like The Strangers before, you're not going to like it now. As far as the Blu-ray disc itself, the video and audio were handled quite well, but the supplemental package is abysmal. Still, the film is strong enough to carry a highly recommended rating from yours truly.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!