The Strangers in 2008 created a new angle in home invasion horror, creating killers that not only toyed with their victims, but also seemingly for no apparent reason. Mimicking the “mindless” massacre of psychopaths such as Charles Manson, the un-scrubbable trauma was made real and available to the masses with Bryan Bertino’s creepy franchise.
It influenced other successful franchises like The Purge of 2013, but clearly left an indelible mark on audiences and filmmakers alike.
“I’m a huge fan of the first movie and what Bryan did as a director,” admits director Johannes Roberts of the new chapter he’s making. So one can expect some level of homage in this third episode.
Roberts himself is no stranger (pun intended) to breakout success. His 47 Meters Down was the most successful independent buy of 2017. So with bow and stern in order, The Strangers: Prey at Night seems well-positioned for a hit. And it mostly answers the producer’s prayers.
When the rebellious teenage daughter KInsey (Bailee Madison) makes a grave mistake at school, her parents Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and Mike (Martin Henderson) decides to send her to a far-off boarding school, and brings her brother Luke (Lewis Pullman) along for one final bonding outing at their relatives’ mobile home park.
Kinsey makes no bones about her discontent. She often breaks off from the pack, going for angst-filled “smoke breaks”. Those are in quotes because she doesn’t actually inhale. Yes, this is your typical poser emo millennial stereotype. She even features an off-shoulder top emblazoned with “The Ramones” for good measure – you know, to know she’s really angry.
As the family makes a last ditch effort to come together when they arrive at their destination, things go very wrong, very quickly, when the kids discover their relatives’ bodies in their open trailer. It would seem that The Strangers trio have now picked this fractured family as their newest playthings.
And yes. Purists will be happy to know that Dollface (Emma Bellomy), Pinup Girl (Lea Enslin) and Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei) retain their looks from the first episode, though there has been some adjustments in the behavioral department.
First of all, Roberts, a self-confessed fan of John Carpenter, injects an element of Christine by placing Man in the Mask appearances mostly in a revving truck. The slow chugging and blinding headlights harken to the creepy moments in the classic, when that signals something bad is about to go down.
Then there’s the more aggressive approach by the trio that departs a little from the original. Not that it’s a bad thing necessarily. It just nudges the dreaded thriller into slasher horror territory. And for the most part of The Strangers: Prey at Night, it works.
The no-nonsense pacing keeps things tense and sharp, and as the film progresses, Roberts cranks up both brutality and gore to satisfy fans. The trio coordinates and attacks with new ferocity, and so delivers a great payout during takedown moments.
Overlaying all this action, is the irreverent soundtrack that fans will recognise; except country tunes have been swapped for 80s pop – a choice that is equally effective. This is especially so in a brilliantly-executed swimming pool scene, when Bonnie Tyler wails out “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to some satisfying exchanges between hunter and prey.
The appeal of these titles is really not only just about the thrills and scares, but also having you engage in a “what would I do” thought process. This became evident in the theatre, when the audience would blurt out suggestions like, “shoot!”, “faster run!”, and the always-helpful “kill them!”
There is one glaringly weak spot in this remake. And yes, it’s our emo female lead. As much as Madison makes for a commendable scream queen – her horrified contortions do have a throwback flavour – her unlikable character (her angst is never really explained or justified, plus she just looks annoying when sulking) makes it difficult to root for her escape.
So it’s a good thing that the trio injects their characters with a level of sinister and venom that keeps us firmly on the side of the victims. With no reason to enjoy their actions yet still doing them with full-fledged glee, this disturbing annihilation still delivers a sweet swing.
Successful title shifts gear a little to become more like a slasher, but maintains the scares and thrills for a gratifying ride.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com