Johannes Roberts, 2018, UK-USA
A sequel that comes over a decade after the original for 'The Strangers', who are kind of b-level icons in the horror genre because they are easily recognisable and easily imitable from their masks. Also, they know how to act like horror killers: they step in and out of shadows, tilt their masked heads menacingly, can break into anywhere and appear soundlessly, play incongruous music for their kill-spree (this is a more contemporary requirement) and say pithy nihilistic one-liners like “We’ve only just begun”; or when asked what their motivation is, “Because you were home” or “Why not?” They even roll up in their killer’s van to Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” so that the point of modern American youth’s nihilism and sociopathic nature is underlined right from the start. In this sense, it’s certainly belongs to that strain of youth-hating horror and one that portrays murder as the logical end of their privilege and self-obsession.
‘The Strangers: Prey at Night’ offers nothing new and your investment in the protagonists may vary, but the family is probably better rendered than many. The misbehaving daughter (Bailee Madison) is introduced with her black fingernails stroking a soft toy, which is surely one of the most immediate announcements that we’re dealing with Goth/Emo. And then there’s a jock brother (Lewis Pullman) and the parents who are floundering in their attempts to break through to their teenagers; this has led them to relocate and temporarily stay in a trailer park where The Strangers are prowling. The family dysfunction and the seemingly obligatory obnoxiousness of the youths is par for the course – although anything is bound to be improved by the natural class of Christina Hendricks. But what it ends up being is more like the troubled kids versus the bullies and mean kids and there’s not really a sense that this family is the kind of film family that deserves what it gets.
What it runs on is a series of decent set-pieces. Johannes Roberts films everything cleanly and the tempo is at a steady clip so that it hardly drags. The confrontations mostly stop from being overplayed, the family starts to call on your apathy, the killers are just short of smirky. It’s generally well-judged until the final stretch where it plunges ahead without a care and you’ll be lamenting stupid behaviour that has up to then been kept to a minimum (“Move out of the way of the van!!”). The best of these is the pool scene: unfolding with the pace of dread and plausibility, a flickering neon behind the head of someone forced to kill is a vivid visual cue for someone psychologically crossing the line into a moment of madness. So, on the one hand you have a film the delivers consummate horror set-pieces with some flair; on the other is a film that isn’t above having things put on books called “A Stranger is Watching”, prefacing with “Based on true events” or using jack-in-the-boxes for weak scares. It’s diverting and slick enough but doesn’t rise above its conventions.