Film review: “The Strangers: Prey at Night ” (2018)

“The Strangers: Prey at Night ” (2018)



Running Time: 85 minutes

Written by: Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai

Directed by: Johannes Roberts

Featuring: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman

Kinsey: “Why are you doing this?”

Dollface: “Why not?”

Ever since the original home invasion horror “The Strangers” (2008) burst into cinemas it was a completely unusual as well as original movie, scary as well as eerie as at its heart was the unknown as well as the very real feeling of isolation, two elements that the horror genre lives on from its very beginning to right now. Not only that but the movie was built around the performances of two extremely talented and well-known actors who were possibly at the top of their popularity, Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler. The trick to that movie, if it can be called that was to frame it around a couple who were possibly breaking up after a long relationship, who had just been to a friend’s wedding. So, in a natural way the tension was high from the off, then the writer/director added to the tension with the unknown people terrorizing them for the rest of the movie, for no particular reason – it was an excellent non-supernatural horror movie that has only gotten better with distance.

It’s hard to imagine why it has taken over ten years for a sequel to be produced, but here we have “The Strangers: Prey at Night” (2018) with a new cast who might not all be well known, but the leads of the movie are two well established character actors in Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson, who play parents to a brother and sister, once again we have relationships that are in flux but for reasons that are only hinted at in the opening act of the movie. Whilst the first movie felt like a breath of fresh air, as well as timeless, this new sequel arrives in a time where horror is being looked at afresh with so many successes as well as fresh narratives that have not be seen before. Instead of having a mise en scène that seemed to be 70s based this new movie seems to be echoing the 1980s, right from the opening with Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America’ (1981), the use of the imagery of the band ‘The Ramones’ as well as a variety of other references, that really set this movie up as something that will be as fresh as the original. In fact the very idea of this movie taking ten years to reach the screens may have been a happy accident as it really has given some natural distance from those events all those years ago.

“The Strangers: Prey at Night ” is directed by Johannes Roberts who may be familiar as he also directed (and wrote) “The Other Side of the Door” (2016) and “47 Metres Down” (2017) two movies I would not rate as very good genre movies at all, all plot holes as well as tired tropes produced on small budgets who ideas were far better than their actual execution – I would never revisit these or recommend them as worth viewing. What is apparent is that armed with a script by Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai, Roberts has directed a very good movie that despite many elements counting against it, is a very good horror movie that fits within the genre as well as elevating itself above what could be described as just another slasher movie, particularly in it’s narrative being based around a family in deep dysfunction.

The film opens with a “Based on True Events” message. In a secluded trailer park, the three masked killers — Dollface, Pin Up Girl, and the Man in the Mask — arrive and park their truck in front of a trailer. Dollface wakes one of the sleeping occupants by banging on the door. When the woman goes to investigate, Dollface kills her off-screen and goes to the bedroom to lie down in bed next to the woman’s sleeping husband.

Mike and Cindy, their son Luke, and their rebellious daughter, Kinsey, take a family trip to their aunt and uncle’s trailer park to spend time together before Kinsey leaves for boarding school. Cindy calls ahead and leaves a voicemail, informing Uncle Marvin that they are running late. After arriving at the grounds and collecting the keys to their trailer, they settle in and hear a knock at the door. Cindy answers the door to find Dollface – unmasked, but hiding in the shadows. She asks if Tamara is home. Cindy informs her she is at the wrong trailer, and Dollface leaves. As the family sits down to play cards and implores Kinsey to join, Kinsey storms out and Cindy sends Luke after her to try and reach out. As Kinsey and Luke wander around the trailer park, they stumble upon a trailer with the door wide open. Inside, they find their aunt and uncle brutally murdered.

As with the first movie there are many elements that are at play within “The Strangers: Prey at Night”, one of the major ones is the concept of isolation, not only of the family but the anonymous killers as well as the emotional relationships within that family group. Interestingly the physical isolation of the family is one of the elements that could save them, in that with nothing else to rely on the family will be forced to do anything to fend off the killers – so in isolating the family, the killers in one respect may have woven in their own downfall. Of course the emotional isolationism that exists within the film, that of the daughter separating herself emotionally from her brother and parents is the mirror of that physical isolation which comes into play throughout the movie, she is protecting herself from being sent away, in doing so sets up an extra level of protection from the killers, maybe even in one aspect being as cold as they are. The isolation of the killers motives to their actions is interesting as is the reason this family was ‘chosen’, which of course is random which may be the scariest of all. At least in films like
“Race with the Devil” (1975) there was a tenuous reason for people to be chased by their unknown assailants, here there is none which makes it all the more frightening.

The juxtaposition that is used in the movie is interesting as well, there is the comparison of the city at the beginning of the film, which is modern, to the rural area which can be seen as backward or low on technology. This is something that is overlooked in many movies, as it is in real life. The idea of connectivity as well as connectiveness is one that is assumed to be universal but it is becoming apparent that there are the haves and have nots in regard to technology, access to internet as well as being woke as to the climate that we exist in. The killers in the movie are low-fi, able to get into places by seemingly willing it, they do not know or care about the latest thing which is apparent by their garb, all left over from the first movie. This is also a movie that is violent but is in opposition to much of the 80s pop music used within the movie, the most obvious section takes place in a pool that is already loaded with meaning, a place that is normally of joy as is the music, being played over the PA is Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ (1981), but in this case is a place that is full of violence and loss, something that should not be lost on audiences. When thinking about these aspects it must be said that this is a competently directed movie with some excellent flourishes as well as action that belies Roberts previous work, he also uses music as well as the actual locale to excellent use combiningg music, geography, action and his actors perfectly.

One of the most important aspects of the movie are the masks the killers wear which distort the wearer’s appearance, causing them to look strange and unusual. Also, these  masks do not feature moving mouths, so when the wearer speaks, the sound appears to come out of nowhere. Wearing these masks changes the wearer’s behaviour. Many people wear masks as part of becoming a character, causing the wearer to act in accordance with that character. Additionally, some people love the freedom that a mask’s anonymity provides. These killers are not only hiding behind these masks but use them to terrorise their victims in a way rarely seen in movies, they are almost like kabuki but with a very Western twist.

This is a movie that begs to be unpacked, much like its predecessor that at the time was not looked on with much critical love at all. I really liked this movie, it had some great performances, tells its story very quickly as well as maintaining its air of authenticity and creepiness. The slasher sub-genre has gone out of fashion in the past ten years, it is simply not enough for some madman to show up and start murdering teenagers, this is a movie with a story at its heart, one of family, inherent mortality and acceptance which does come at the end, with a caveat as well. If you can seek this out, but I would recommend watching the original first.

“The Strangers: Prey at Night” is out now in cinemas.



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