To succeed a horror film that upends pointless terror is the odd and inconvenient undertaking of the sequel, “The Strangers: Prey at Night”. The film is directed by Johannes Roberts, who aptly have odd and inconvenient ideas, but rarely do these ideas rise past the virtues of a pointless 80’s horror pastiche. He moves the film to a gloomy trailer park from the first film and its progenitors’ falsely idyllic suburbia, where we open on a masquerade of apathetic murderers, hacking to the self-affirming, unsubtle use of soundtrack with Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America”. Out, then, clangs the film’s title card, adorned with the serifs of John Carpenter’s favorite font, hovering insidiously as a deep, dark electronic score pulsates in the background. From here, Roberts’ odd and inconvenient ideas spur into an obvious agenda: to glaze a begrudgingly serious franchise with fun, zestful horror trappings, and make its horror godheads cum from flattery.
But as an ode to the sprightly horror entries of yesteryear, the film fails, lifting along those films’ greatest moments with their most insufferable parts. As an “Aliens”-like rejuvenation attempt for a sequel, the film falls flat too, constantly finding itself straddled to its predecessor’s conceptual conceits. The script, co-written by Ben Takai and Bryan Bertino, molds into the sort of horror story we’re all too familiar with. The kind that we hate and love to hate, casting a host of characters who makes on-their-feet decisions as senseless as the events that unfold in the film itself. “The Strangers: Prey at Night” feels like a film Wes Craven’s “Scream” would have a swell time trash-talking, and that is never a good thing.
The film casts a quartet of victims, each as clueless as Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman’s distressed couple had been in the first film. They stand in for an all-American domestic unit, dysfunctional as they had been depicted in countless other stories, with momma (Christina Hendricks), poppa (Martin Henderson), poster jock son (Lewis Pullman), and angsty, Ramones shirt-sporting daughter (Bailee Madison), who tries to wield a more united familial front after an undisclosed incident involving Kinsey, the daughter. In a bittersweet bid for reform, parents Cindy and Mike decide to send Kinsey to boarding school. En route, they hit the sack at a desolate trail park caretaken by a relative, which, unbeknownst to them, is currently the playpen for the films’ masked, morbidly irrational murderers.
That’s about as close a connection we get with “Prey at Night”, which makes sense, having that its tormentors are driven without any clear motivation. “Because why not,” asks one of the killers, her face made up with blood and a menacing grimace. It’s a self-referential, ultimately irksome nod to the creepiest moment of the film, in which Dollface, one of the film’s masked menaces, replies in a crisp, matter-fact tone to a victim they’re about to, after suspending her in a state of shock and torture, finally kill. “Because you’re home.” It suggests that the film knows the trappings of the original, and in needlessly repeating plenty of its elements—the crimson-colored “hellos” on the window pane, the insidious “where is Tamara?” stint, and the incessant battering of doors—the film devolves its monsters from terrifying forces of evil into serial killers, mere cogs in the killing wheel in which Charles Manson triumphed.
But in moments when the film resigns itself from this notion, it shines. Sequences enlivened by the ironic use of music, including one set at the pool to the crescendo of Air Supply’s “Making Love (Out Of Nothing At All)”, are enthralling. That sequence, in particular, is incredibly animalistic, and Ryan Samul, the film’s cinematographer, is right to hold tight onto what is supposed to be the film’s momentous death scene. Samul’s work, of course, has been put to defter use, chief among them is Jim Mickle’s neo-western “Cold in July”. By the end of “Prey at Night”, one thing becomes crisper than Samul’s skilled lensing: not all Carpenter sprawlings are created equal.
The Strangers: Prey at Night
2018 / Horror, Thriller / US
Direction: Johannes Roberts Screenplay: Bryan Bertino, Ben Ketai Cast: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson
A family of four staying at a secluded mobile home park for the night are stalked and then hunted by three masked psychopaths.