March 8, 2018 The Strangers: Prey at Night (Movie Review)
Late in the blazing and bloody The Strangers: Prey at Night – Directed by Johannes Roberts (The Other Side of the Door 2016, 47 Meters Down 2017) – the Man in the Mask plays “I Think We’re Alone Now” by ‘80s Pop superstar Tiffany. It is a glorious bit of self-awareness, for both the characters and the audience. Now, after much talk and anticipation, The Strangers: Prey at Night finally hits theaters everywhere on Friday, March 9, 2018, through Aviron Pictures.
For almost the entire duration of The Strangers: Prey at Night, the Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei: Nikos the Impaler 2003, Closed for the Season 2010) has been stalking a family with an ax. If his partners-in-crime Dollface (Emma Bellomy: Before the Dark series 2013, Smoketown series 2017) and Pin-up Girl (Lea Enslin in her feature debut as an actress) don’t get them first, he will chop them into hamburger. Like the 2008 original film, The Strangers: Prey at Night will be divisive and yet true to the expectations of fans of the two films. “I Think We’re Alone Now” indeed. This is some pretty stripped down Horror!
Bailee Madison (Brothers 2009, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark 2010) is Kinsey, a ne’er-do-well teen stuck on a trip to boarding school. Her parents, Cindy (Christina Hendricks: Mad Men series, The Neon Demon 2016) and Mike (Martin Henderson: The Ring 2002, Everest 2015), have decided enough is enough. Along with her good egg, sports playing brother Luke (Lewis Pullman: Aftermath 2017, Lean on Pete 2017), the entire family treks out to drop Kinsey off in hopes of getting her to smarten up. They will just be staying at their relatives’ trailer park one night before “helping” Kinsey clean up her life…
Of course they do not exactly have a good last night together; it literally becomes their last night as a family. They find their relatives gruesomely murdered, and come to learn they will be contending with those three familiar, masked psychotics for their lives. This family has chemistry; they feel like a real family with real problems. Are they fleshed out completely? No. But there is enough there to feel for them.
What makes The Strangers: Prey at Night work is its simplicity. This is a film confident in what it wants to do: there is a real economy of words and ideas at work here. Running away from the killers is not an option, not with a foggy forest surrounding the middle-of-nowhere trailer park. Ryan Samul’s cinematography sleekly establishes the bleak reality of their situation; there is a lot of space here, dark empty space, and as a result, nowhere to go.
Does this story add to the killers’ lore? In a sense. There is a greater emphasis on varied music here than in the first. The Man in the Mask plays hits from the ’80s as he stalks the family. Pay attention to his choice of songs! The main point of the Strangers is not about who they are underneath, though. No one ever says “the Strangers” in these films; they are just three deranged maniacs in masks chasing people. As a result, the victims never have time to ask many questions before they realize what the game is.
However, there is always time for one question: why? Director Roberts and Writers Bryan Bertino (who directed the original and created the characters) and Ben Ketai understand this most terrifying thing about these killers. They are a force, a very human force, representing the unknown. They could be monsters or demons, but they are not; they are people. Maybe this is what Cindy is afraid about for her daughter: that there could be something about her she does not understand. Is sending your kid to boarding school the answer? Who knows! But as parents, she and Mike feel they have no choice but to intervene.
This ends up being one hell of an intervention. The Strangers: Prey at Night is a blunt story about the human capacity for violence. A well-worn thematic thread, yes, but well-executed (pardon the pun). Part of the reason it is so easy to invest in both Strangers films is because the audience asks “why” alongside the victims. An almost instant hatred develops for the antagonists because they are so savage and mysterious; there is no real “why” behind their actions beyond “because.” Clearly, this isn’t much of an answer and the viewer just wants to see someone take them down. Perhaps that is an inner-struggle human-beings have about not knowing. It’s incredibly frustrating to not have answers and Roberts exploits this, building on what Bertino established in the original.
When asked in the 2008 film why they were doing what they were doing, Dollface responded, “Because you were home.” Kinsey similarly demands an answer to this question and Dollface’s casual response here may be even more chilling. Welcome to 2018!
The Strangers: Prey at Night is a sleek, stripped down, and intense yet moody-at-times Thriller with a huge John Carpenter influence (noted by director and huge Carpenter fan Johannes Roberts). It knows what it is, and it builds on the original without straying too far from what made that initial film work so well. For that, CrypticRock gives The Strangers: Prey at Night 3.5 out of 5 stars.