The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

In 2008, which was my senior year of high school, a few friends and I rushed to the local movie theater to see The Strangers. This was during a time where cable television reigned supreme, so the movie’s trailer was constantly playing during commercial breaks. I don’t recall much about the film, since I haven’t seen it since its theatrical release. All I remember is that it was very creepy and starred Liv Tyler. Here we are ten years later, and the film’s sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night, has been released.

There isn’t a whole lot of buzz surrounding The Strangers: Prey at Night (unlike its predecessor). The only reason I was drawn to see it is because I was in the mood to see a spooky movie, and it was the only horror film in theaters. I didn’t have high expectations going in, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed a good bit of the film.

Prey at Night follows the basic home-invasion horror movie formula, but instead of a crew of scantily clad women, the “prey” is a family going through a rough patch. Bailee Madison plays a slightly out-of-control teenager (complete with a Ramones t-shirt and a plaid shirt tied around her waist) named Kinsey, who is being sent to boarding school by her parents (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson). Before she makes the big move, her parents, along with her brother (Lewis Pullman), take her on a trip to splendid little trailer park campground by a lake. They arrive in the dead of night, and there’s literally no one at the campground because it’s off-season. Within ten minutes of their arrival, the doll-faced killer from the first film gets things started, and the rest of the “Strangers” crew gradually start to appear in the campground.

It’s no surprise that there’s a lot of violent encounters as the family is basically hunted by a crew of bat-shit crazy killers, but there’s something quite special about a few of them. The “Stranger” with a burlap sack mask, who seems to be the father figure of the crew, has an obsession with 80s pop music. During a scene where he is chasing a severely injured Kinsey through the campground, Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” began booming through the theater’s speaker system, and I burst into uncontrollable laughter. I hate being the douchebag in the theater that laughs during horror movies, but I just couldn’t help myself. However, my favorite scene of all was one that involves a stabbing in a pool surrounded with trashy neon lights while Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is blaring through an outdoor sound system. All in all, The Strangers: Prey at Night is just another garbage horror movie, but it’s worth watching for the bloody 80s pop song scenes.

-Britnee Lombas

Pottersville (2017)

Early reactions to the bizarre Christmas comedy Pottersville have been intensely focused on the over-the-top absurdity of its plot, which is totally fair. Michael Shannon stars as a small town general store owner who, once discovering his wife (Christina Hendricks) is having an affair with his best friend (Ron Perlman), goes out on a drunken rampage in a gorilla suit, inadvertently sparking a Bigfoot hoax that makes his once-humble community internationally famous. Oh yeah, and this incident is sparked by his discovery of a secret club of closeted furry fetishists lurking in his community. That’s certainly not the most traditional of Christmastime narratives (especially the part about the furries), but the movie is much more intentionally (and successfully!) goofy than people are giving it credit. It plays a lot like a Christmas-themed, kink-shaming episode of Pushing Daisies and its plot’s overarching sweetness more or less amounts to It’s a Wonderful Yiff, but there’s no way that highly specific aesthetic wasn’t its exact intent. I wouldn’t suggest entering Pottersville if you’re not looking for a campy, tonally bizarre holiday comedy, but it’s novelty subversion of the Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie formula is both deliberate and surprisingly successful.

Pottersville works best when the material is played straight, allowing the (intentional) camp value of the absurdist plot to shine through in full glory. Michael Shannon is disturbingly committed to his lead role as the put-upon shopkeeper, his natural creepiness only making the most impossibly kind character’s earnest, charitable heart all the more bizarre. His befuddlement over the existence of furries (which he unfortunately discovers by catching his wife mid-yiff) and subsequent, moonshine-influenced decision to run amok as Bigfoot are the easy highlights of the film, wonderfully clashing against the Frank Capra Christmas backdrop. By the time he’s drunkenly howling to the night like a wild animal, the performance is downright Nic Cagian. Thomas Lennon’s turn as the film’s heel is much more pedestrian. Dressed up like an early 2000s boy band singer and armed with a horrendous Australian accent, Lennon plays a reality TV “monster hunter” who blows the Bigfoot story way out of proportion, compounding the small town & general store owner’s problems exponentially. He feels like he’s airdropped in from a much broader, more conventional comedy, which detracts heavily from the much more unique tension between Michael Shannon and the furries, but he’s also amusing enough in isolation that he doesn’t ruin the fun of the picture at large. If nothing else, between this movie & Monster Trucks, Lennon has at least built an interesting case for being Bad Movie MVP of 2017.

Delivered by first-time writer/director team of Seth Henrikson & Daniel Meyer, Pottersville is surprisingly well constructed as a visual piece & an oddly subversive act of comedic writing. The town itself looks like a whimsically manicured snow globe miniature, giving it that Pushing Daisies dollhouse look; even the run-down trailer park is super cute. The script also sneaks in out-of-nowhere allusions to Freaks, Jaws, and the Christian Bale freak-out tape … just because? Whenever it functions as an outright comedy it threatens to become hopelessly pedestrian, but the basic premise of Michael Shannon as an undercover Bigfoot hoaxer trying to infiltrate a community of small town furries in a modern retelling of It’s a Wonderful Life is enough to carry the film as a Christmastime novelty. I have to assume everyone involved knew exactly what they were doing when achieving that strange imbalance; you don’t stumble into that kind of absurdity completely by mistake no more than you can accidentally wander into yuletide yiffing. Either way, it’s a strange delight.

-Brandon Ledet

Lost River (2015)



Sometimes it’s gotta suck to be Ryan Gosling. Not often, but sometimes. Everything sucks sometimes, right? I’m sure being a talented actor & a beautiful human specimen is mostly all perks, but what if no one takes you seriously when you try to let loose the weirdo artist lurking under your perfect skin? Finalizing his gradual transition from pint-sized Mouseketeer to big boy artist, Gosling recently stepped behind the camera to write & direct his debut feature, Lost River. Critically-speaking, it didn’t go well. The film was panned on the festival circuit as “derivative” “poverty porn” and lost its wide distribution detail in the process, eventually being damned to direct-to-VOD status. Gosling’s first outing as a creator instead of a performer failed to secure accolades and the talented sex beast was left having an uncharacteristically bad day in the sun. The dirty secret is that Lost River is actually pretty damn good for a debut feature. It’s far from flawless, but there’s very little justification for the vicious critical beating it received on the festival circuit. If the film were directed by a fresh-out-of-film-school nobody it most likely would’ve had a better chance in the critical eye. For once it didn’t pay to be for Ryan Gosling to be a wealthy, well-known pretty boy.

Both the “derivative” & “poverty porn” complaints feel somewhat like they were aimed specifically at Gosling’s pretty boy swag instead of his final product. The claim that the film is “derivative” is technically true, but not really a problem considering the sources Gosling pulls from here. Names like Lynch, Bava, Korine, Mallick, and Refn are sure to be conjured by any discerning audience, but what film buff wouldn’t love pieces of those five aesthetics gathered in one neon-soaked, dilapidated package? Speaking of dilapidated, the film may also technically substantiate that “poverty porn” critique, as it pulls beautiful images out of economic despair, turning what remains of Detroit into a ludicrous dream world. I also see this complaint as more of an asset than a problem, especially considering how the images tie into the film’s thematic details (foreclosed houses, stealing copper from blighted properties, etc.). Also, it’s an aesthetic that’s worked wonders before in titles like George Washington, Gummo, and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

The one legitimate qualm I found with Lost River is that it is poorly paced. There’s a calm, unrushed progression to the movie that plays right into the stereotype that art films have to be boring to be taken seriously. At least while the run time is glacially gliding along, there are plenty of worthwhile images to chew on: flaming bicycles, pink neon lights, glistening Casio keyboards, underwater dinosaur statues, slow-motion house fires, and so on. That’s not even getting into horror legend Barbara Steele’s hermetic mourning or fellow-perfect-specimen Christina Hendricks’ Tree of Life cosplay & blood-soaked burlesque. These images appear slowly, but each with great individual impact, backed by the sleek nightmare sounds of Chromatics genius Johnny Jewel. They’re definitely a sight to behold and it’s a sight I expect to revisit often, even if they do work better as still images than as a feature film. Gosling most certainly has an eye and once he tightens aspects like pacing & narrative, he has untold potential to make something truly great. I just hope that he hasn’t been discouraged from making more films by the negative reception his debut garnered. Lost River may not be a perfect work, but it does demonstrate a wealth of promise and it’d be a shame if that promise were snuffed out in its infancy by sourpuss critics.

-Brandon Ledet