No, this isn't a post about Star Wars. But, I went to the movies a few weekends ago (I had originally planned to post this right after but then there was the holiday of my people 🍀 so that took precedence) which, as much of a movie lover as I am, is something that I never do anymore. It's not the price that keeps me away. Unfortunately, it's something outside of the cinema's control: people who will not stop talking. I typed out an entire curse-filled side rant about this and just clicked delete to save you the rambling, angry train of thought. But my God people need to stop talking during movies. I mean seriously!
But, I semi-digress. So, aside from seeing Star Wars (oh look at that. . .) or anything in the Alien franchise, I never go to the movies anymore. However, the new Strangers movie - The Strangers: Prey at Night opened this weekend. And, seeing as how the original 2008 The Strangers holds a special place in my heart (it not only is my favorite horror movie, it is also the last one to actually scare me. I mean like keep me awake for two days straight with nightmares scare me. And it was awesome. No other movie has been able to do that.) Well, this past weekend my beloved masked murderers were making a reappearance on the big screen. It had been ten years after their debut and six years after talks had surfaced that they would be coming back. So of course I had to go see them. And of course people talked. But that’s beside the point.
*Fair warning, everything following this has MAJOR SPOILERS for both the 2008 The Strangers and 2018’s The Strangers: Prey at Night*
My love for The Strangers does not fall into the majority opinion for that movie. It’s got a 6.2 on IMDB and a 47 on Metacritic. Regardless, I saw it in theaters ten years ago and I was truly terrified. The movie follows a couple to a remote cabin in the woods (I know cliché) except the difference is that despite the rose petals on the floor and the champagne in buckets of melted ice, it isn’t a happy occasion. You see, she said no when he proposed at the wedding they had just attended. Immediately, this creates an underlying discomfort and tension. We don’t have happy people celebrating about to be terrorized. Nor do we have drunk and reckless teenagers exploring their sexuality. No, what we have is a couple that doesn’t want to be around each other but at the same time still does. And neither of them have any idea how to handle the situation.
Then there comes a knock, knock on the door and with it a reserved young lady asking if Tamara is home. When they tell her no, that she has the wrong house, she wanders away confused and dejected. Our sad couple just assumes it is the icing on top of the shit-cake that is their evening. But, as we soon find out via creepy camera angles and mysterious happenings, our couple is not alone. Their sad evening has become a group affair with the addition of three masked people set to terrorize them until dawn.
While it sounds kind of like a cookie cutter horror story there are a few things that The Strangers does differently to make itself stand out from others in the genre. First, there is the discomfort / awkward relationship between the two protagonists. Second, 90% of the movie is subtle, tension-building horror, a nice reprieve from the multitude of gore-heavy offerings that we’ve been given.
It’s believable. And I don’t just mean the idea behind a home invasion, I mean the way the protagonists react is actually realistic. They don’t go investigate scary sounds in the darkened basement with nothing but cut-offs and a tank-top. They don’t say cliché dialogue every other line. They are legitimate characters trying to survive.
Fast-forward a decade and we arrive to this weekend and the long awaited (or not so much) follow-up with our favorite masked maniacs: The Strangers: Prey at Night.
This time, we see our trio leave the woods in favor of a vacation trailer park left nearly abandoned now that the summer season is over. When a cliche family, arrives as a stopover when bringing their black-haired, Ramones t-shirt wearing, punk daughter to boarding school, the strangers do, well what the strangers do.
That is until the girl and her brother take control of the situation and turn the tables, killing all three of them by the end of the movie.
So here’s the deal: when I saw the first trailer for this movie I was excited and bummed at the same time. All I could tell is that they took the subtle, tension building, horrifying movie I loved and turned it into a generic slasher flick with an upbeat 80s soundtrack. Why 80s? Well, that became obvious when they did the opening title and introduction and we realized that, at least to us, they were trying to capitalize on the public’s love for Stranger Things and IT. That’s great. Except it’s not. This movie doesn’t take place in the 80s. Or in the 90s. Or in the 00s. It takes place now. With fully functioning touch screen phones and everything.
But, aside from that silliness, the only other sticking point I had in the movie was the typical cliché dialogue spewed by the family. Luckily, there wasn’t much, but what was there was painful to listen to. Almost as painful as the guy two rows in front of me who would not . . . shut . . . up. But because the world is how the world is and you don’t know who’s carrying a knife or a gun on them I ignored as best I could and focused on the movie.
I’ll admit that I went into this movie expecting NOTHING. Actually, that’s not true. I expected them to ruin one of my favorite things of all time so I went in pretending that this movie had nothing to do with the first. Which it doesn’t. At all. The only downside is the girl and her brother survived. Our masked maniacs? They did not. So apparently we’re not getting a third one, which I guess is okay. But there were still possibilities to keep the franchise going (correctly) if they had lived. Oh well. I guess I’m reserved to my love for the 2008 horror masterpiece The Strangers. And Prey at Night can be another fun, campy gore-fest to watch when I need some background noise while writing critical opinion pieces. . . Like this one.
Shit! What's that behind you. . . Just kidding. Cheers :)
I made it a month. . . And failed. Although, I wouldn't really call it a failure, more of a re-alignment. Right before 2018 hit us I vowed to read 24 books this year (which is the consistent never met rollover goal), a short story every week with a review, and then a bunch of writing, both short stories and novels. Well, I'm a month in, give or take a week, and up until last Sunday I've been consistent with reading and critiquing short stories. . . . And that's about it.
I can't really complain because a lot of good things have happened. However, because of a few additions to my schedule I needed to take a step back and reevaluate a few things. Realign the priorities. So, because I haven't gotten nearly as much writing done as I've wanted to, I'm dropping the weekly short story review in favor of devoting that time to my own projects. I know, your inboxes thank me. I'll still post when I read a few here or there to BS about them, but nothing on a regimented schedule. I want to get more words on the page then I have been and this will probably help a little bit.
If you haven't already, feel free to check out Songs We Play When We Pretend We're Ourselves. Reception's been good thus far and I'm really happy about it. So thank you to everyone who read it and shot me a message with what you thought.
Until next time! Cheers everyone.
Or at least that's what it seems like as we round the corner on another Short Story Sunday. But there's more to this sunday than that. So stick around after the my quick review and find out what's up.
Our pick this week was How We Escaped Our Certain Fate by Dan Chaon out of the Nightmares anthology. My first encounter with Dan Chaon was in grad school when I was assigned his 2009 novel Await Your Reply. It was a mish-mash of narratives and character types all thrown together in slightly connected story lines. His short horror story about a zombie ravaged yet still functioning America was a really entertaining read.
The story follows a father and a son after a bang of an opening when said son shoots and kills someone. Not that shocking a zombie horror story. . . Except the person who was threatening the kid's father wasn't a hungry undead, but someone else trying to survive. Now we have to decide if that's okay in a turmoiled, anarchist world, or if there are still lines being drawn and subsequently crossed.
Chaon captures the moral questions really well in this story and uses the world he's built to subtly ask the reader questions that are pertinent to our own lives. Who would have known that zombies could lead to life affirming questions and answers? Hint: everyone who grew up with Resident Evil : )
Next week's choice for Short Story Sunday was randomly selected by my lovely other half Eryka, and will be coming out of The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century. And that selection is duh-duh-duh Fire Watch by Connie Willis.
Alright, so aside from reviewing, I have a short story post of my own to throw out here. The Lascaux Review picked up a short story of mine Songs We Play When We Pretend We're Ourselves and I'm thrilled about it. If you want to read it click here: http://lascauxreview.com/songs-we-play/ It's free to read, but if you enjoy it (and I hope you do) or any of the other stories in the review, please consider donating to the publication. It allows them to stay open and put up stories by wackos like me!
Cheers everyone, have fun watching the Super Bowl!
We're making progress! One month down and I've kept to the goal. And while I'm wiping some sweat off of my brow now, there's still a long way to go. Last week's read was Afternoon by the Pacific Ocean by Kristín ómarsdóttir out of the collection Out of the Blue: New Short Fiction From Iceland.
I picked up this collection in Reykjavík last year after hiking around the southern coast of the volcanic hotspot. It's a tradition: grab a short story collection when I visit a new place, and it provides a nice wave of nostalgia when I pick up the anthologies to read after being home for some time. This was no exception.
Afternoon by the Pacific Ocean read, to me, as more of a short vignette then a story. Which is not a bad thing. It allowed a glimpse into the life of Marilyn Monroe and her friend Greta Garbo as she paid the actress a visit on, you guessed it, the coast of the Pacific Ocean. While the piece is short, bordering flash fiction, it provides a clear insight into the lives of these two characters and what matters to them. And one of the biggest challenges in writing is providing a connection between the characters and the reader. ómarsdóttir does this with ease.
Following the characters through their afternoon, we see the little things that make them tick and what matters most to them, including the relationship between themselves. And that's what I think makes this piece shine--the intimacy. Not just between Marilyn and Greta but again what we as readers feel for these two. Well done and well written.
Now, for next week, we return to Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror with a story picked out randomly by my mother-in-law Liz, so big shout-out there (whoo whoo). For those following along at home, that random pick ended up being How We Escaped Our Certain Fate by Dan Chaon.
Until next time, cheers and all that good jazz ; )