Director: Johannes Roberts
Starring: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson
Length: 1hr 25m
The Strangers: Prey at Night, directed by Johannes Roberts and starring Christina Hendricks and Bailee Madison, is a sequel to the 2008 horror film The Strangers, though that really doesn’t matter as there is almost no story-connection between the two. So if you’re a fan of Liv Tyler you’ll be sorely disappointed. But then again, if you’re a fan of effective horror, you’ll also be sorely disappointed. This movie is trash in almost every way, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
To give you an idea of the film’s trashiness, the first five minutes of the film foreshadow what’s to come pretty well. It opens with fun poppy, but slightly off, sinister music that makes you think, ooh, maybe this film will take a different turn from what’s expected. But then the pop music abruptly stops, and we’re left with a cliched, silent, misty road. From then on we’re just waiting for the jump-scare to happen, because that’s what happens at the beginning of all of these films. What we get isn’t quite a jump-scare, but it is a lot funnier. A door is knocked, the old lady who answers it is dispatched, and then a young woman, wearing a comically silly mask, goes to lie down in bed with the old lady’s partner. It’s all supposed to be tense and sinister, but instead it’s funny, summing up the whole film’s constant tonal issue of attempting horror and achieving humour. The three antagonists get no further development beyond their comical horror masks, with their murderousness almost completely unexplained, so this is it for the next couple hours, just with different victims.
We cut to a fairly nondescript family of four as they set out to visit their great-aunt and uncle’s house in a trailer park. Someone should give John Carpenter a call because he wants his The Fog theme music back (seriously, the music in The Strangers is borderline plagiaristic). The family has some nice character details, with the parents planning to send daughter Kinsey (Madison) to boarding school for undisclosed reasons, with her resenting them for doing this, but there is a clear division between this family drama and the horror. Once the horror kicks off, these character conflicts are completely dropped. Which is probably for the best, as the family drama is quite clunkily-told, with some very bizarre camera and editing choices, such as when a personal moment between mum (Hendricks) and Kinsey is presented through a slow, flat zoom-in. It’s very obvious that the film, much like the audience, is just waiting for the horror stuff to happen and gives the characters the bare amount of character development to sustain any kind of later drama. There are some nice touches here and there. The misty trailer park is sinister enough, and the camera has such disjointed angles sometimes that it does become unsettling. It’s just a shame that it is all for nothing, as there really is no plot beyond it being about some crazy people wanting to kill a family.
The problem for the film is that it knows what it wants to be but it hasn’t been allowed to be that. It wants to be a Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Friday the 13th, with all the bluntness and simplicity of those films, but it has to curry favour with the more popular taste for family drama, as opposed to just populating itself with disposable teenagers. A threatened family has emotional stakes inappropriate for a slasher film like this. Take You’re Next for example, which is similar to The Strangers in that it involves masked figures murdering a family, but as the plot develops we learn that the murderers are linked to the family in a logical way. Because there’s none of that here and things get more emotional when the family is inevitably victimised, things feel increasingly dissonant when we’re supposed to be enjoying the violence of the film, but also upset and disturbed by the destruction of the family.
Despite this dissonance, things do pick up towards the end as the film goes full slasher-mode. The Man in the Mask, driving around with an assortment of classic pop songs, has a fun silent charisma about him reminiscent of a Leather Face or Jason Vorhees. Dollface and Pin-Up, the two female slasher villains, look and act a bit more silly but are still fun, especially as the three of them develop the ability to appear wherever the protagonists are hiding no matter what. The best scene, simply for its blunt violence but also slightly tacky style, is a fight between the son and Man in the Mask on a neon-lit swimming pool. The film is at its best when just giving into its baser instincts like this.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is trash, but that’s okay. In a world where subtler horror films are dominant, it’s quite nice to just sit back and enjoy the stupidity and simplicity of an ‘80s-style horror movie.