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Review: The Strangers: Prey At Night

The Strangers: Prey At Night
Director    Johannes Roberts
Starring    Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, Emma Bellomy, Lewis Pullman, Damian Maffei
Release    4 MAY (UK)    Certificate 15

Rating:


If there is one movie trend that I just don’t understand, it’s the continuing popularity of generic horror. I don’t know if it’s because there’s comfort and familiarity in the formula or because some people just want to see blood and gore no matter what laziness gets them there, but there is obviously a massive audience for clichéd carnage. These are the kinds of people who think freaky masks are cool, who actively root for key characters to die horribly, and who think that the prey/pray pun in the title here is really quite clever.
Does anyone remember the first Strangers? Enough to care about a sequel ten years later? It’s been a while, but if the first film is regarded at all, it’s as an effective take on traditional horror tropes. It was packed full of clichés, but also seemed to at least use these to its advantage in exploring a particularly chilling idea: that there exists an inherent trust between everyone, and it can very easily be broken; that we feel safe too easily, partly because we believe that other people are always harmless unless we can understand a clear motive for them to be otherwise.

That idea of an ever-present threat that we just aren’t aware of is a fundamental, core-shaking fear, and it’s enhanced in The Strangers when coupled with a) a home invasion – an intrusion into what should be seen as a safe space – and b) never discovering the identities of the attackers, because the very point is that they could be anyone; they are an unknowable menace, made seemingly invincible by their anonymity.

It's the same reason why these guys don't use their real names: Linda, Sue and Ian.


Fast-forward ten years, and we now have a belated sequel that retains all of its predecessor’s more banal elements, and has forgotten what made it remotely interesting. With the location for the stalk-and-kill switched up from holiday home to trailer park, this film immediately feels less personal and more unremarkable in showing us a family of four being tormented by three masked psychopaths. Then, as the family find opportunities to fight back against their attackers – surely helped by the fact that the teenage son is clearly in his mid-twenties – their masks start to slip a little. The untouchable assailants are shown to be entirely touchable; they now seem less like a mysterious nightmare, and more like just a crazy – but fallible – gang.

Elsewhere, this film suffers from all the worst of the genre’s most commonplace flaws. Every jump scare is telegraphed well in advance and stupid horror logic persists throughout: a woman shot in the stomach at point blank range with a shotgun is blown backwards, but still lives long enough to have a final exchange of words; while another character takes several moments to realise that he has a giant wooden beam sticking out of his abdomen.

Most frustratingly, none of the characters do what you want them to do in any given moment. They don’t run away when it would be easy to do so, they don’t stand and fight when they might as well, and everything they do, rather than being in their own best interests, is clearly for the benefit of a bloodlusting audience that just want to see axe fodder get from Safe Place A to Kill Zone B.

"Boo..p oop-a-doop!


But such is the tradition of generic horror flicks. This one at least deserves an extra star for a visually interesting set-piece in an outdoor swimming pool, backlit by neon signage and set to the tune of Total Eclipse Of The Heart. Although, an homage to Urban Legend with some tongue-in-cheek fun during the "Turn around…" part of the song could have injected some much-needed self-aware humour into proceedings.

Overall though, it’s typical slasher-by-numbers stuff. No doubt loved by the audience it was made for, but it’s clear the film has abandoned the best qualities of the original film, which it has so obviously preyed/prayed upon.

See? That doesn’t work at all.



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