R Dir: Johannes Roberts | Universal | 1h 25min
Plot: What’s it about?
Very few horror films (especially these days) do what they set out to do and actually scare me. There are few exceptions, but one that always stays with me is the original The Strangers. It was often delayed (which only built my anticipation), but finally opened in May 2008. The reviews were pretty solid overall, and the box office return was also good. This was especially true given its rather small budget. The film pulled what seems like the mandatory “based on true events” which may very well be true. Regardless, I still have a hard time sitting down and watching the original film, because of how much it frightens me. There’s just something unsettling about it with the isolated location and three masked killers who are given no motive and zero backstory. Their faces are also never revealed in full. It is indeed my kind of horror film, making full use of the fear of the unknown. Enough about that film, let’s talk about this sequel.
This time we follow a family of four on a road trip. We have Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and Mike (Martin Henderson) as the parents along with their children Luke (Lewis Pullman) and Kinsey (Bailee Madison). We learn that their daughter Kinsey messed up enough to force her parents to send her to boarding school. We get a lot of early scenes with them which clearly try to develop these characters before the mayhem starts. They’re all traveling to meet their family at a trailer park to stay there before Kinsey goes off to school. When they arrive there, however, they get a knock at the door. It’s a girl whose face is hidden by shadows, asking for Tamara. They tell her she might have the wrong address and she leaves. They all sent down to play cards, but Kinsey takes off and leaves forcing her brother to go have a chat with her. We see them then go to their aunt and uncle’s trailer to find that they have been murdered. As they’re out, the stranger knocks on the trailer where there parents are and asks for Tamara again. Mike and Cindy decide to go look for the kids and when they meet, they inform them that their aunt and uncle have been killed. Mike asks Luke to take him to the trailer and see while Kinsey and Cindy go back to their trailer. From here, the family is now under attack and has to defend themselves against the strangers.
This sequel makes great use of its atmosphere and music especially, with some popular 80’s tunes dominating the soundtrack. I was eagerly anticipating this sequel, and it failed to disappoint me. While I find the original film a bit more frightening overall and unsettling, this one is a close step behind. This review marks my second viewing and the first half didn’t seem quite as slow as when I first saw it. I was reminded a bit of You’re Next, but thankfully this takes a different direction than that film. I enjoyed that film as well, but I’m glad this didn’t have the same twist. The very nature of this sequel by adding a couple more characters and opening up the setting a bit keeps it from having the isolation factor that made the first so scary, but it still gets the job done. There’s a sequence near an outdoor pool where the lights and music are turned on which is not just scary, but clever as well. Outside of only a couple of moments, the characters are also unlike most horror film characters in that they don’t make many foolish decisions. I did roll my eyes a bit toward the end where a character seemed to be invincible, but thankfully that didn’t go on too long. I also enjoyed how this plays fair and doesn’t pull any cheap shots. It gives the victims a fair shot at defending themselves. Ultimately I think fans of the first film will enjoy this as well.
Video: How’s it look?
Right away I noticed the clarity with the transfer. There was a sharp look to it. The image is AVC encoded with a 2.39:1 ratio. Details are sharp with smooth and bold colors throughout. I mentioned the scene by the outdoor pool which adds strong details and deep colors. Even though most of the film takes place at night, it’s never hard to see things as often the case with horror films these days. All things considered, this transfer presents the film in a satisfying way.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The DTS HD track is also solid, but the vocals did seem a bit more limited than I’m used to. At no times was this a huge issue, but I had to keep the remote handy to raise it during some of the dialogue scenes. The action elements are fine, though as it really brings us into the world. Music and effects have a nice balance which keeps the track busy. There is a clarity to the vocals, but I just feel it could’ve been a bit stronger. Overall, I feel pleased with the track, though.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Unrated Cut – In addition to the theatrical cut, we find the option to view the unrated version. Both have the same running time of 1.27:37. I opted for the unrated version, but I didn’t notice any strong changes. It was probably more blood splatter if anything.
- Alternate ending (1:51) – This is more of an extended ending which I’m glad wasn’t used. I feel the ending itself isn’t the best part of the film as it seemed unnecessary, but I’m still glad this one wasn’t used.
- Music Video – Prep for for Night (Director’s Cut)
- A look inside The Strangers: Prey at Night (1:50) – This is too short to offer anything substantial, but it’s here for your viewing just the same.
- Family Fights Back (2:02) – We get a glimpse at the family and having to defend themselves in the film. It’s only mildly interesting.
- The Music of The Strangers: Prey at Night (2:46) – Easily the best of the features, this one looks at the music featured in the film and how it’s like a character itself.
The Bottom Line
It was a long ten year wait, but Prey at Night was worth it. While not quite as creepy or unsettling at the first, this one still gets the job done. It’s atmospheric and makes good use of music as well. The first half didn’t seem as slow either on second viewing. I wish more horror films would take this approach as we don’t need backstory to make the killers scary. It uses the fear of the unknown and that works. Recommended.