Review

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

Director: Johannes Roberts

Cast: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman

Running time: 85 minutes

2-stars

A family of four – mother Cindy (Hendricks), father Mike (Henderson) and their teenage children Luke (Pullman) and Kinsey (Madison) – are on their way to drop the rebellious Kinsey at boarding school. En route, they decide to spend the night at a relative’s trailer park. But instead of awkward family conversation and embarrassing tales of youth, the family find something much worse waiting for them there – a trio of relentless masked killers.

It’s late at night in some isolated location. You’re sorting through your vast collection of hip 80’s vinyl records and classic horror film VHS tapes. There’s a knock at the door. Trembling, you reach for the conveniently placed handgun on the kitchen top. It’s loaded, but don’t worry, you’ll find some convincing reason – at least in your own head – why you won’t ever actually use it. Another knock. Of course, you instinctively shout “who’s there?” Slowly turning the lock, you swing the door ajar. You squeal at the sight. Who is it standing there?

Bonnie Tyler…

Right, so that’s not actually the plot of The Strangers: Prey at Night, but it’s pretty damn close.

After the rather surprising longevity of Bryan Bertino’s atmospheric original – in many cinematic circles considered something of a cult classic – Johannes Roberts returns us to the discomfort of strangers as another group of unknowing victims are stalked by three silent, masked psychopaths. Largely running with the same simple premise, and with Bertino back once again to pen the script, the second instalment offers up much of the same inexplicable, motiveless stalker grisliness we got a decade ago. There’s knocking. There’s running. There’s knocking and then there’s running. And then there’s knocking, running, and then killing.

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Prey at Night is a double-edged knife. At one end, we have a film that sensibly resists any of the expositional temptations that a sequel so often feels the need to lay on thick. Instead, Roberts’ film operates from the same mantle laid down the first time around, that less – narrative baggage that is, not blood – is certainly more. Once more, we are steered clear of any rhyme or reason, and are asked to work only with unrelenting, random nastiness.

At the other end though, this is not the joyous stroll through raw terror that it really could have been. No, this isn’t anything close to a brisk walk, as much as it is a stumble across ground well-trodden that has been trodden…well…better.

Upon a narrative plain that yields the conventional genre stock we’ve seen a million times before, Prey at Night provides nothing organic; and in pruning any slither of character interest via some familial frictions that shows signs of growth early on, quickly becomes little more than a horror cliché box ticking exercise. That said, if you’re into the whole hello-who’s-there-followed-by-actual-jump-scare-right-after-decoy-jump-scare-followed-by-sigh-inducing-character-decision-that-would-only-be-rational-in-a-world-where-horror-films-don’t-exist thing (and breathe…), then this might just be your Oscar winner.

This is, for the most part, a feature-length game of spot the reference, hosted by someone whose Spotify playlist won’t play anything other than 80’s hip pop records. A blend of of Texas Chainsaw, Halloween and Total Eclipse of the Heart makes for a concoction that is at first toe-tappingly, finger-snappingly odd, but very quickly loses its charm, before beginning  to feel awfully, awkwardly shoehorned and repetitive. The intention is clear, with homage the name of the game; but sadly, such homage is never ushered down the intriguing or creative paths it has been previously. Somewhat ironically then, in a film of blood and murder, Prey at Night’s execution ultimately lets it down – down into the realms of sigh over scream, and into the depths of genre mediocrity.

Did we want it? Did we ask for it? Did we expect anything more? No; no; and probably not. If A Quiet Place kept us drooling over how good 2017 was for horror; Prey at Night will have us praying we could turn back the clock. This is one stranger you really shouldn’t get to know. Instead, turn around bright eyes, and walk in the other direction.

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