Directed By: Johannes Roberts/2018
When Johannes Roberts signed on to direct the sequel to 2008’s The Strangers, he says that he wanted to build on what Bryan Bertino (who directed the original and is given a writing credit on this sequel) had done with the original, but to also take the sequel into new and different territory. As he introduced the film via video at the Alamo Drafthouse screening of it this past week, he acknowledged hiding nods to both John Carpenter (particularly The Fog) and Stephen King (specifically Christine), throughout this film. He also wanted to include a soundtrack comprised mostly of Jim Steinman written songs, as well as songs sung by Kim Wilde. The film as a whole has a very 1980’s horror throw-back vibe to it all which makes it a lot of fun in a campy sort of way, but also stifles it from being something more. The new territory he was describing must be a return to horror films of yesteryear, as there is nothing new about this sequel.
Mike and Cindy (Martin Henderson and Christina Henricks) have loaded up their mini-van and are headed out with their teenage son Luke (Lewis Pullman) and their teenage daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison). Kinsey has apparently been quite the handful and her rebelliousness has her parents at their wit’s end. Not knowing what to do with her, and hoping to save her from herself, they have enrolled her in a boarding school where they are taking her. Along the way, they will stop with an older aunt and uncle of Cindy’s who run a mobile park campground that is in a pretty remote and desolate location.
The family arrives to the office which is closed, but Cindy, having been there many times growing up, lets herself into the office to get the keys and read the note her uncle left her. They head to the trailer they’ve been assigned, and try to have some family time, without cell phones for once. Kinsey wants nothing to do with them and takes off on her own, with Luke going after her. Eventually, the strangers will knock on the door.
The strangers are 3 individuals who rarely speak, but who knock on the door, eventually invading the home and killing those inside. They each wear various masks. Their screen-credited names are Dollface (Emma Bellomy), Pin-Up Girl (Lea Enslin), and Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei), but those names are never uttered. Unbeknownst to the family, Cindy’s aunt and uncle had been murdered before they arrived, and the entire encampment is now empty with it being off-season.
This certainly creates a creepy, remote location for chasing, killing, scaring, and gore. With three killers, and four victims, Johannes Roberts keeps things nice and simple. There are a few jump scares here and there, but mostly The Strangers: Prey at Night goes back to the stereotypes of the horror movies of the past. People running and falling while looking back. Anticipated kills with slow movements by the killers to draw it out. The killers never having to run, but eventually catching up to their victim who was previously in a sprint. Hiding out in places one thinks that they are safe in, only to find out that they’re not. They also laughably hide in places that you know will easily become a kill zone, just like the old Geico commercial used to lampoon horror films when the commercial’s potential victims forgo the working vehicle to escape and opt to hide in the barn behind the chainsaws where the killer just shakes his head in disbelief.
The film also uses the “is the killer really dead? Let’s go and look to make sure.” ploy, and the “nothing can kill the killer” idea that results in several almost endings where the carnage can continue unabated just a little while longer. Other familiar tropes include people dropping their useful weapons at the most inopportune times, and the potential victims do a lot of screaming and crying before realizing some reserve of strength they never realized that they had. Or, they just succumb to their impending death. Probably the scariest thing to a modern horror audience in this film is the fact that the cell phones are rendered useless almost immediately upon arriving in the trailer park by the parent’s desire to have family time. Removing this modern convenience allows for the retro vibe to permeate the film all the more, but will frustrate a generation who are glued to their devices and wouldn’t understand not being able to simply dial 9-1-1 the first chance they get, or while running.
The retro-fun you will have watching the film, especially as the Steinman songs’ lyrics seem to appropriately fit each scene they are played in, is enough to let you enjoy what you are watching in spite of these familiar tricks of the trade, and that may be just enough to keep the box office respectable. For those looking for a ground breaking horror film, or additional scares above the simple premise and the scary notion of people in masks randomly slashing their way through people because they can, you’ll be found wanting. For everyone looking for an escape and lots of blood in a short run-time of a film, then you’ll be happy with the end result. Just try to overlook that the tools of the trade that are employed in this horror film are no strangers to those who have watched any other scary movie.