Loving parents Mike and Cindy decide to take their two children, angry Kinsey and sporty Luke, on a road trip that turns out to be a living nightmare for the family as they’re stalked by three killers – Dollface, Pin Up Girl and The Man in the Mask.
The follow up to the 2008 film The Strangers doesn’t get off to a great start with the cliched family story – Mike and Cindy are anxious parents with a daughter who is troubled and independent (and wears a Ramones T-shirt) and a son who is popular and good at sport. The whole family dynamic quickly becomes tertiary to the need to survive as members of his small family unit are picked off in brutal fashion by largely silent and unrelenting attackers.
With the film starting with Kids in America, before we later hear other tracks from the same decade, the film has a very 80s feel to its when it comes to storytelling and presentation; it’s difficult to put a finger on, but it’s almost like the film is paying homage to the period. It gives The Strangers Prey at Night a very old-fashioned feel, and it’s largely for the better. A lot of the early scenes are spent building up the family unit, cliched as it may seem. It’s got a touch of Poltergeist about it (the Stephen Spielberg/Tobe Hooper film) in that it makes you care about the family, despite their fractious relationship with one another. Very much like Poltergeist, it builds up the strangeness slowly and effectively before ramping it up with the home invasion. There’s a touch of Dario Argento with the music and lighting in the pool scene, a sense of Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the relentlessness of the killers.
Any film that uses Total Eclipse of the Heart deserves more stars, and to have the song playing whilst there’s a fight in a neon-lit pool is a plus. Very much like the song itself, The Strangers Prey at Night explores the extremes of emotional strength. Just how far will the children go to protect each other when the parents are no longer able to do so and can anyone survive the walking embodiment of death?
The fear of death is played well, but the kill sequences themselves are relatively quick. Bryan Bertini and Ben Ketai have constructed a script that doesn’t call for protracted death sequences, but for long periods of suffering. There’s no lengthy negotiation with the invaders nor exposition as to why they are doing what they’re doing. It’s a fight for survival, not a film about making friends with the enemy to escape.
Much of the film takes place in darkened rooms, in the dark outdoors and just, generally, in the dark, so it’s sometimes difficult to see what’s going on. This does play to the advantage of the film with the primal fear of the dark being well used throughout the film and terror coming seemingly from nowhere. It makes for, at times, an eerie and unsettling experience.
Whilst the first The Strangers was a successful exploration on home invasion and how one can be at risk for no reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, The Strangers: Prey at Night builds on its predecessor without losing track of what made the 2008 film a success, giving us a much more visceral film that has an underlying intelligence and will likely stick in the memory for much longer. The Strangers Prey at Night has a fine handle of the importance of threat as it does on its handling of the gory details of death and it plays this incredibly well.
It’s a strong entry in the horror genre, a slasher film that stands proudly on the shoulders of its forebears and shows how home invasion films, when imbued with a much needed pervasive sense of menace, can be well executed without resorting to endless and meaningless jump scares.
Dir: Johannes Roberts
Scr: Bryan Bertini, Ben Ketai
Cast: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman
Prd: Wayne Godfrey, James Harris, Robert Jones, Mark Lane, Ryan Kavanagh
DOP: Ryan Samul
Runtime: 85 mins
The Strangers Prey at Night is is available on digital now and is released on 10th September on DVD