BARE BONES: THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT and HUNTING EMMA

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THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT (2018)

Sequel to the disturbing The Strangers, finds couple Cindy and Mike (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) going with son Luke (Lewis Pullman) on a road trip to bring troublesome daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) to boarding school. They stop at an uncle’s trailer park for the night and soon find themselves hunted by three masked individuals.

Original film director Bryan Bertino steps aide and lets Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) take the helm, though he does write the script with Ben Ketai. The result is a more routine slasher flick, but one that does have some effective scenes, especially in the last act When Kinsey goes on the offensive. It’s entertaining enough and has some very violent moments, though is held back by characters doing some very dumb things…even for a horror flick. It’s also hard to believe that a character afraid to pull the trigger in one scene, would suddenly find the balls to stab someone repeatedly a scene later. In fact, why introduce the gun into the scenario at all when it’s never fired, lost quickly, and doesn’t become a factor? Roberts does direct competently and as slashers go, it gets the job done well enough, but is nothing memorable like the original home invasion flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HUNTING EMMA (2017)

South African thriller finds peace-loving, school teacher Emma (Leandie du Randt) heading across the Karoo to go visit her father (Tertius Meintjes). When her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, she happens across the murder in progress of a police officer (Drikus Volschenk) by a gang of six vicious drug dealers. Now Emma finds herself pursued across the wilderness by the gang, who don’t realize that Emma’s father was a special forces soldier and he taught his daughter everything he knows.

Very similar to the recent Revenge, this flick is directed solidly by Bryon Davis, though from a weak script by Deon Meyer. The script has not once but twice, a male character having the advantage over Emma, but putting down his weapon to teach her a lesson either bare-fisted or by engaging in an old school, Western-style gunfight. It’s silly. At these points in the film, Emma’s proven she’s dangerous. Are these guys that in need of macho validation? Secondly, the script assumes we’re too dumb to get the point and after numerous flashbacks of Emma learning survival tactics from her dad, there is a painstakingly long exposition scene with her dad explaining this all to a friend (Albert Maritz) in explicit detail. We already got that she’s a bit of a Rambo in Daisy Dukes, it’s completely unnecessary and adds ten minutes to a film that would have benefited from a slightly tighter edit job. The bad guys are quite routine, though the film does entertain and leading lady du Randt is solid and likable as the wolf in sheep’s clothing, Emma. A tighter script that didn’t insult our intelligence would have made this a lot better as the action and violence is effective.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011)

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DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011)

The original Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark may be corny and a bit cheesy by today’s standards but, it still has plenty of spooky atmosphere and chilling moments and I’ll admit it scared the heck of me as a little boy when first aired in 1973. It told the story of a young couple that move into an old house inhabited by demonic creatures who target the young wife, Sally, to claim her soul.

The remake from producer Guillermo del Toro and director Troy Nixey, keeps the old house but, makes Sally a little girl (Bailee Madison) with the diminutive demons after…her teeth? Sally moves into the cavernous old mansion with her dad Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) and once the creatures are unleashed, their nasty activities (shredding Kim’s dresses and Sally’s teddy bears) are continually blamed on Sally as a result of her emotional distress over her parents divorce… despite a character being savaged when Sally is nowhere near. Even when it is obvious something else is going on and Kim looks into the folklore behind the house, Alex still doubt’s it’s anything but Sally’s bid for attention and leaves her in situations where she can easily be victimized by the scurrying little monsters. But if they didn’t, it wouldn’t allow for the overblown Gremlins-ish attack scenes in the finale act.

So, does Nixey deliver a spooky flick and are the creatures at least scary? Sadly, no. The CGI critters show up fairly early and are smaller and more numerous then the original demons but, don’t have anywhere near the menace they should. They evoke the hairy wingless versions of the tooth fairies from Del Toro’s Hellboy 2 and to a degree they are similar as teeth play a part of their character for whatever reason. That and they are paraded out in full view far too much and the over-exposure and the obvious CGI origins kill any effectiveness they might have. As for the positives, the film does look great with sumptuous production design and gorgeous cinematography but, sadly Nixey, from Del Toro’s and Matthew Robbins’ script, never is able to make it scary. He’s a competent enough director but, just not able to establish suspense or the atmosphere of dread the film needs. It may entertain some as a dark Disney film or a humorless Gremlins 3 but, it never works as a horror film even thought the intended victim is a child and she is played sympathetically by young Bailee Madison.

And while on the subject… the cast are fine with Madison standing out as Sally. Holmes is adequate as the new girlfriend trying to overcome Sally’s dislike and win her over. Her concern once things get weird appears genuine. Pearce is a little heavy handed as the dad who thinks it’s all in Sally’s head and seems a little callous when it comes to his daughter’s well being but, that seems to be how the character is written and the character in the original TV movie wasn’t much better, a little too self-centered to realize something strange is going on till it’s too late. Too bad a good cast could help generate what the film lacks, scares.

Overall the film is not bad, just not scary. It is sumptuous to look at but, the CGI creatures look like exactly that and have no weight or threat or personality. The film is simply not frightening and afraid of the dark is something it never makes us.

2 and 1/2 CGI creatures.

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