CREDIT: Brian Douglas/Aviron Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman

Director: Johannes Roberts

Running Time: 87 Minutes

Rating: R for Knives, Blood, Axes – The Usual

Release Date: March 9, 2018

A lot of franchises straddle the line between sequel and reboot with their follow-up entries. In the case of The Strangers: Prey at Night, that confusion is baked right into the very premise. The first Strangers featured a group of masked, essentially motiveless killers terrorizing a couple. Prey at Night features a group of masked, essentially motiveless killers terrorizing a family. Are these the same killers? The masks are the same, as are the methods, and therefore any continuity or lack thereof is beside the point. So let’s ignore what Prey at Night does or does not mean as a sequel and just deal with it as its own thing.

The victims this time around are a family of four taking a weekend trip at a trailer park owned by some relatives. I’ll mention the actors because they deserve credit. I was going to skip mentioning the character names because they hardly register as fully fleshed-out human beings, but then I decided I might as well name them for the sake of making it more convenient to explain what happens. So there’s mom Cindy (Christina Hendricks), dad Mike (Martin Henderson), and their teenage kids Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and Luke (Lewis Pullman). The whole family is on edge, mostly due to Kinsey’s recent behavior, which is never specified. She is wearing a Ramones T-shirt and a plaid jacket tied around her waist, which I guess is supposed to symbolize rebelliousness? Or it could mean nothing at all. Either way, it’s not worth getting hung up on.

But the thing is, we spend so much time with these people that I cannot help but get hung up on something about them. This film asks its audience to consider, “What if you were relentlessly attacked by a group of killers just because they had nothing better to do?” Thus it is understandable why the main characters lack any discernible identity. These people are just supposed to be Any American Family. In theory, that is an intriguing approach, but in practice it is frustrating to spend so much time with these people and know essentially nothing about them.

Before the screening, there was an intro video from director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) who explained that he meant for Prey at Night to be his own spin on John Carpenter. Specifically, he’s referring to the small town portion of Carpenter’s oeuvre, particularly The Fog and of course Halloween. But that influence feels misplaced in a film marked heavily by its gory extremity. There are some striking, Carpenter-esque shots (like a mailbox surrounded by fog), but they do not really feel incorporated into the killers’ reign of terror. Elsewhere, there are some vicarious thrills when the family fights back. But overall, this is a situation that would be plenty scary if it actually happened to you but on screen in this case it doesn’t offer the catharsis necessary for a successful horror film.

The Strangers: Prey at Night is Recommended If You Like: Horror Movies with Characters Devoid of Any Personality

Grade: 2 out of 5 Cracked Cell Phones