Friday, June 15, 2018

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT (2018) (Universal Blu-ray/DVD Review)


Label: Universal Pictures

Region Code: A
Rating: R/Unrated
Duration: 86 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1) 
Director: Johannes Roberts
Cast: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman, Emma Bellomy, Damian Maffei, Lea Enslin 

Ten years after the original we are getting a sequel to The Strangers (2008), this time we're following a family struggling with some interpersonal issues, parents Mike (Martin Henderson, The Ring) and mother and Cindy (Christina Hendricks, TV's Mad Men) along with their teen son Luke (Lewis Pullman) are in the process of driving their delinquent teenage daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark) to boarding school, against her will. She's done something wrong and her parents - who are very caring and sympathetic people - have had enough, while the specifics of her bad behavior are never detailed it is decided boarding school is the way to go. Along the way they stop off at a seasonal trailer park run by an aunt and and uncle, they arrive in the dead of night to a surprisingly empty trailer park. They help themselves to the key to their pre-assigned trailer and begin settle in for the night... when there's a knock at the door, uh-oh. A blond teen whose face is hidden away in the shadows asks if Tamra's home, when informed she's got the wrong place she walks off into the woods, if you've seen the first film you know the deadly game is now afoot, and this family of four have bigger issues outside of family squabbles.

In a a nice bit of 'let's get rid of the phones' in an organic and not too convoluted modern-slasher sort of way Dad confiscates everyone's cellphones in an attempt to have some focused family time, but Kinsey becomes upset as angsty teen often do, running off for some alone time, her brother at the urging of his mother follows her, catching up to her at a nearby park and they begin wandering the park together, eventually stumbling across a trailer with the front door ominously left open. Curious they go inside and discover the mutilated corpses of their aunt and uncle, sending them in a panic back towards the trailer looking their parents, who they run into on the way back. They spill their guts about what they've discovered, the father sends Kinsey and her mother back to the trailer while he and his son go back to check out the corpses, bad idea.

Where the Strangers was a atmospheric and dread filled home invasion downer the sequel is a more stylish retro-80's sort of slasher, the abandoned trailer park has an off-season summer camp sort of feel, it definitely brought to mind Friday the 13th - complete with not one, but three masked killers! That's right, Dollface, Pin Up Girl, and the Man in the Mask are back and out for the blood of strangers. Like the original this one has loads of atmosphere and style, the deserted trailer park has a light covering of fog and the visuals are bathed in a jaundiced yellow light, drenched in shadow and punctuated by tasty Carpenter-esque synth score - the main title copping Carpenter's theme for The Fog (1980) without shame, plus we get some choice 80's tuneage by way of Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" and Bonnie Tyler's "Total eclipse of the Heart" placed prominently in two key scenes.

The cast is good, we don't get a lot of time with mom and dad but they're here enough to establish their love for the kids, even when the teenage girl is being difficult, and Bailee Madison does good work as the delinquent teen, she's not too angsty and not too much of a bad-girl, she makes a great final girl and summons that necessary inner-strength convincingly when called upon. 

The body count here is not too high, this is a small group scenario - much like the first film - but the kills really count, you feel for these characters, some of whom are dying to save their loved one, I found one of the death's particularly harrowing when the victim becomes impaled by debris after a car crash, unable to free himself the Man in the Mask (or Sack Head if you prefer) opens the car door and sits down in the passenger seat, finding a song to his liking on the radio before toying with his prey, finally finishing him off with an ice-pick. I thought the whole scene was anguishing and sad.

The film starts off a tiny but slow but once they get to the trailer park things pick-up considerably and don't let up until the flaming end, literally a flaming end, there's what can only be an homage to the Stephen King/John Carpenter film Christine (1983) with a Ford F-150 engulfed in flames chasing after our final girl- it's quite a visual. It's funny that I dig these homages in this film when just today I was decrying Tomb Raider (2018) for riffing on Temple of Doom and Goonies, but when a slasher lovingly sends-up another of it's ilk I have no issue with it, some cinema-sins are forgivable while others are not, I think it's genre specific too.

One of the best looking sequences features the brother facing down Pin-Up Girl and Man in the Mask at the trailer parks pool, lit up with copious amounts of neon party lighting, there's a baptism of blood in the pool I found quite effective, and I must say that when the movie decided to unmask one of the characters it didn't ruin it for me, I thought it would but it didn't, in fact at the end of the day while I might think the original is the better made film this is probably the one I'll come back to more often, it's way more fun and not quite the downer gut-punch of the original, I prefer slashers to the almost always downer home invasion films.   

Audio/Side: The Strangers: Prey At Night (2018) arrives on Blu-ray from Universal Pictures in 1080p HD framed in 2.39:1 widescreen, this is a very dark film, so thankfully the blacks are nice and inky with good shadow detail, but the atmospheric lighting doesn't allow for crisp detail, so don't come into this one expecting razor-sharp detail and clarity - it's just mot that sort of film, it's going for a darker retro-80's slasher sort of look. Audio comes by way of a sweet sounding English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 options with optional English subtitles. The sound design really gives emphasis to a few jump-scare moments, one that stands apart from the pack is the startling introduction of Pin-Up Girl which actually made me jump a little bit, and the Adrian Johnston retro-synth score and 80's tunes sound terrific.

Looking at the extras they are pretty slim pickings, all slick and all-to-brief EPK styled clips that add up to about 10-minutes of not all that much. When Universal sent this our way for review they included a t-shirt and soundtrack CD, if you're a fan of retro-80's synth scores and 80's music I highly recommend the soundtrack CD.

This 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, and a slipcover featuring embossed lettering on the cover and spine, inside there's a Movies Anywhere Digital Movie Code for the film.

Special Features: 
- Alternate Ending (2 min) HD
- “Prep for Night” Music Video – Director’s Cut: The Man in the Mask, Dollface, and Pin-up Girl get ready to terrorize an unsuspecting family in a music video directed by horror auteur Mickey Keating (Darling, Carnage Park) (2 min) HD
- A Look Inside The Strangers: Prey at Night: Stars Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson and director Johannes Roberts talk about the making of the film (2 min) HD 
- Family Fights Back: Stars Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman and director Johannes Roberts review the film’s characters and their fight to survive (2 min) HD 
- The Music of The Strangers: Prey at Night: Director Johannes Roberts and star Bailee Madison discuss the John Carpenter-inspired score and the ‘80s soundtrack that keeps The Strangers killing (3 min) HD 

When they first announced this ten-years-later sequel for The Strangers (2008) I scoffed at the notion, thinking that surely this was gonna be a cheap and woefully uninspired cash-grab, but I give credit where credit is due, director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) came through with an entertaining slice of slasher cinema that left me pleasantly surprised, it's not just a rehash of the original, it turns what was a dread-filled home invasion thriller into a sweet slice of throwback slasher goodness.


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