Two horror franchises recently released new additions to their series–The Strangers: Prey at Night and The First Purge–and I’d argue that they both fall into the same subgenre. It could be called something like Survival-Hunting Horror.
A great example of this type of film (one with a very different plot from the previous examples) would be Green Room. The events in these movies don’t have much in common besides the threat of death, but they do share some key characteristics. The villain in these movies brutally and realistically hunts or attacks the protagonists, who lose members of the group while figuring out how to avoid the attackers. They work together and try to anticipate the attackers’ moves, finally mounting a counter-attack in one way or another. Their survival depends on luck, physical strength, and resourcefulness.
The movies explore different themes but rely on the same techniques in the process. The Purge has become more overtly political since the first installment, while The Strangers and You’re Next are more psychological and relationship-based. You could even make the case that the slow-burn masterpiece The Invitation falls into this group, which delves into the territory of philosophy, religion and social order. While the horror genre, still going strong in this era of streamable indie films, doesn’t seem to be ravenous for these movies, there are enough examples to suggest that the market is there for expansion of the canon.
These two most recent additions, The First Purge and The Strangers: Prey at Night, received relatively similar “Rotten Tomatoes” scores (54% and 38%, respectively)–which can be significant in determining a movie’s financial success and overall popularity–but neither one reflected the quality of the film.
In my consideration of which movie to see at the theater recently, I took to the web to read some reviews of The First Purge, having been intrigued by the trailer. They were pretty consistently dismal and seemed to confirm my fears that the franchise would start to slip, as most horror series do around the fourth installment, relying on cheaper tricks and doing away with all the substance.
Luckily, I tried to ignore what I had read and went with my gut; my wife and I bought a couple tickets and enjoyed the movie thoroughly. So much that we went back and watched the first three movies over the days that followed. Political protest through movie reviews has been a technique employed by the Right in the past, so I have to wonder if the overt and specific political agenda in the film drew an organized attack. While the series has received consistently low scores, and horror movies in general aren’t known for winning Oscars, this movie deserved much better.
The Strangers: Prey at Night, on the other hand, deserved to be reviewed objectively. I don’t know how they found reviewers at major publications who had never seen a slasher movie before, but they must have, because they consistently compare the film to 80s slashers. The movie does intentionally evoke 80s horror with an imitation-John-Carpenter soundtrack and dark lighting. The villain even attempts a poor-man’s Michael Myers routine at the end [not a spoiler alert because who would ever care].
The 80s throwback subgenre is in full swing now with great movies comprising its ranks like It Follows, Final Girls, Late Phases, and Tales of Halloween. But The Strangers, neither of the two movies, is an 80s slasher throwback. I repeat, they are not “80s slasher” and should not be given credit for minimalism when they’re really just lacking creativity. Even if you can forgive that grossly inaccurate characterization, the movie is so bad, so riddled with utterly inexplicable decisions that it becomes offensive. Case in point: the mom sacrificing herself for the family scene. The reviews are almost criminally misleading. This just is not up for debate and interpretation. First one’s good, second one’s bad.
Unfortunately, I had the same contrasting experience with an unrelated viewing. This one of a true 80s throwback. Horror-comedy may be an acquired taste, and one you don’t always crave even once you acquire it, but some of them are really great. 2014’s Wolfcop is an example of a great one. The followup, just released on July 3rd, Another Wolfcop, is a disgrace that should not be allowed to sully the reputation of the original. I have nothing more to say on the matter.