The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018) Cover

The Strangers Pray at Night is the worst religious film I have ever seen. In all seriousness, though, The Strangers: Prey at Night is probably going to be a bit of a divisive film, with more viewers leaning on the side of disliking it strongly. One of the challenges of discussing a merit of the film is giving weight to each element. On some level, you judge the whole. Since this is a largely subjective exercise, breaking a movie down into its parts helps you strive for a more objective understanding of it. Prey at Night contains picturesque views that are meticulously constructed with excellent cinematography, and the pacing is technically sound due to technical competency from the cast and crew; however, it’s undermined by an unoriginal and thoughtless plot that has more groans than scares.

At its core, Prey at Night does nothing more than delight in meanness and terror. While there are a few shots that are constructed around building tension from the unknown, the vast majority of the effect is from watching the terror of the main characters front and center or from enjoying the calculated superiority of the unstoppable killers. Even these things are hard to take pleasure in, though, given the terrible and thoughtless behavior of the protagonists and the power of the antagonists to teleport just about wherever they need to be. You’re never given a reason to be invested in the family, except from a pure survival standpoint, and the killers are pure terror anarchists who act with no reason or motivation.

Arguably this could be the point, but The Strangers never digs into what it means to have villains with no purpose or reason. Other movies have done that better and had more fun with it. You’d be better off re-watching The Dark Knight. Additionally, having dumb protagonists distracts from any ideas that might be inferred from the plot. In fact, it’s just outright horrendous watching the lead actors, whose characters I cannot remember the names of, stumble through the story. There were moments where the entire theater that I watched the movie with was yelling at the screen, and that is something truly special. This may be a selling point to some… watching dumb characters get terrified and murdered, but it’s not my cup of tea. It just feels poisonous.

Despite all of this, there are some definite bright spots. The cinematography is astounding. The shots of the trailer park at night, filled with little bitty bits of style, really grab your attention. Prey at Night is easily at it’s brightest during the moments where it’s quiet, and it allows you to soak in the isolation of the environment. Director Johannes Roberts builds on the excellent framing and imagery by constructing reasonable tension in the pacing of the film. It’s really sad that this is the only tension that Strangers has to offer, given that good pacing can really push a decent film into greatness. Given the emptiness of the plot, any tension at all that the audience feels comes solely from competent construction, and so it’s just sad to see that talent wasted here.

On a final note, I also wanted to say that the musical selection was savory. The use of classics to add a chill in the air is brilliantly done, however, there just isn’t enough of it to make up for the rest of the movie. And that’s sort of what The Strangers: Prey at Night is in a nutshell, a hollow and empty film dressed up beautifully in well-made trappings.

If you care more about how the movie looks than what it has to say, or if you really delight in watching the mean-spirited pleasure of people being stalked and killed without purpose, The Strangers: Prey at Night may be for you. For me, though, this is just evidence that it’s near impossible to deliver substance purely through the art and sound design. For everyone else, give this one a pass.

Final Verdict:Too little substance and too mean spirited to be worth your time.