Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

A bickering family – mother Cindy (Christina Hendricks), father Mike (Martin Henderson), older son Luke (Lewis Pullman) and rebellious daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) are on their road-tripping way to move Kinsey to a boarding school as a cure for what looks like perfectly common teenage behaviour of the kind parents are actually supposed to put up with. On their way, they are making a pit stop at the mobile home park run by an aunt and uncle. The place is completely empty out of season (as a German, I have no clue what that’s supposed to mean in this context, but hey, empty trailer park I understand), so it’s at least a nice and cheap way to spend a night, I suppose.

When they family arrive late at night, there’s no aunt and uncle to meet them, only a short written message saying they’ll see them in the morning. As the audience knows – and the family will soon learn – there’s no actual family reunion coming up, for the relations have been murdered by a trio of creepily masked killers with a thing for horrible 80s ballads (putting the insult of bad taste to the injury of murder) who are no bound to whittle these not terribly fantastic four down.

Apparently, making a belated sequel nobody asked for to a middling genre movie and turning it into a superior film in a different genre is a thing now. I am not complaining, for this approach worked out rather well for the The Purge films, brought me joy in Beyond Skyline, and does result in a fun second entry into the The Strangers canon.

Directed by Johannes Roberts – who really deserves the slightly more visible directing gigs he’s been getting the last couple of years after a decade or so in the genre film mills – this turns the home invasion movie of the first Strangers into a very 80s looking slasher with a low body count, and is all the better for it. Now, if you’re one of those people who need all their horror films to be very deep, or at least ironically deconstructive, you will probably have no joy with it. This one’s really out to be an entertaining 90 minute ride with little depth. Roberts is playing with the visual signifiers of classic slashers, but he has clearly not set out to turn the genre on its head, but rather to make a cracking good film inside it. There is a complete lack of pretention to the director’s approach to the slasher and his quotes and nods towards the genre standards; Prey at Night comes at the genre from the inside looking outwards instead the other way round the more ironic approach would take.

That’s an approach I can like and respect just as much as the boundary pushing of other films, as long as it is used with prowess. We’re very much in luck there with Prey at Night, for Roberts uses the look and feel as well as some of the standard tropes of the classic slasher with verve, creating a fun series of increasingly violent encounters between masked maniacs and a group of people well out of their depth, throws in more than just a couple of great suspense scenes, and adds the appropriate quota of creepy masks, improbably durable killers (and victims), quoting good films left and right without winking, providing me with a very good time.

The film also looks rather wonderful. The colours and general style very often suggest Dean Cundy shooting for John Carpenter, visibly and atmospherically aligning itself with the best part of the genre its working in rather effectively.

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