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New Release Review - THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT review
A family is targeted by violent, masked assailants.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Johannes Roberts

Starring: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, Lewis Pullman

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT uk poster


In this current nostalgia obsessed era, belated sequels and revivals have become commonplace, so it's no surprise to see a followup to a 2008 horror movie arrive on screens a full decade later. What is surprising is that The Strangers: Prey at Night manages to improve on its predecessor, delivering the thrills many complained were absent from writer/director Bryan Bertino's original.

That film starred Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a couple struggling with their marriage who retire to a secluded vacation home for what was meant to be a relaxing weekend. Of course, things don't work out that way as the couple find themselves menaced by three mysterious, masked figures.

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT

Returning as co-writer while handing directing duties over to British genre journeyman Johannes Roberts, Bertino again injects an element of familial strife into his sequel script, with tearaway teen Kinsey (Bailee Madison, who as a young child delivered a remarkably affecting performance in Jim Sheridan's 2009 drama Brothers) being shipped off to a boarding school by her parents, Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and Mike (Martin Henderson). Along the way the family, which also includes Kinsey's goody two-shoes older brother Luke (Lewis Pullman), decides to spend the weekend at a trailer park operated by Kinsey's aunt and uncle.

As established in the pre-credits sequence, said trailer park has been taken over by the masked trio responsible for the 2008 film's reign of terror, having murdered the park's owners and lain in wait for unsuspecting guests to arrive. It's not long before Kinsey and her family find themselves fighting for their lives.

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT

My issue with 2008's The Strangers was that while it delivered an effective slow-burn build up of chills, it lacked a satisfying payoff. With the sequel, the reverse is true. Prey at Night has very little in the way of character establishment; we're given a brief road trip and a shared cigarette between Kinsey and her long-suffering Mom and then BAM!!!, we're into the payoff, which continues apace for the remainder of the movie. As such, it's difficult to genuinely care about the fate of this family, particularly given how the most interesting dynamic of the quartet is broken up early on.

This is a shame, as Roberts does some excellent work here, delivering raw, scaled back set-pieces with an old school '70s/'80s vibe. He makes great use of the zoom lens, a tool generally shied away from by modern filmmakers thanks to its overuse in the '70s by schlockmeisters like Jess Franco. It creates an unsettling air of voyeurism, as though someone is aiming a target at the film's potential victims, and as Roberts slowly zooms in on his terrified protagonists, a claustrophobic sense of impending doom. In one great moment that recalls Leatherface's shocking first appearance in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (a movie visually referenced more than once here), Roberts frames an attack in a long shot, quickly zooming in as an assailant appears from the darkness as though the film is as surprised at the attack as its audience. Props to Roberts also for his admirable refusal to cheat the audience by adding cattleprod sound effects to his jump scares. The movie could use more jolting moments, but those we do get work on a purely visual level - bravo!

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT

Roberts, who began his career making low budget British thrillers before becoming part of the mid-budget Hollywood horror fraternity, has had his misfires, none more so than the truly awful The Other Side of the Door, but last year he injected new life into the played out shark attack sub-genre with his under-rated underwater thriller 47 Metres Down (a Roberts directed sequel due to arrive next year), and on the evidence of Prey at Night he's stepped up his game considerably in recent years.

But for all of Roberts' good work behind the camera, there's still that lack of interesting characters to prevent Prey at Night from joining the ranks of the best horror movies of recent years. Slasher fans however should find enough thrills in Roberts' creative staging of sequences - along with his nods to genre staples like Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes and Christine - to get their money's worth.

The Strangers: Prey at Night is in UK/ROI cinemas May 4th.




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