Review by Lauryn Angel
Like its predecessor, 2008’s The Strangers, this movie is based on a series of true events, including the Manson Family murders, the Keddie Cabin Murders, and writer Brian Bertino’s own experience of strangers knocking on his door, asking for someone who wasn’t there – strangers who were later revealed to be responsible for a series of break-ins and robberies. Bertino wrote and directed the first movie, but is only responsible for the screenplay of The Strangers: Prey at Night, turning the directing duties over to Johannes Roberts.
The hapless victims in the film are a family of four. Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and Mike (Martin Henderson) are at their wits’ end with rebellious daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison), and are carting her off to boarding school. Kinsey’s older brother, Luke (Lewis Pullman) is forced to go along for the ride. There is palpable tension in the car as Kinsey is angry at everyone, pouting and acting out. By the time the family stops at a trailer park, tempers are flaring and resentment between the siblings is palpable, causing them to separate, which, since this is a sequel and we know what’s coming, heightens the uneasiness the audience feels. Those who have seen the first film already know that the killers are relentless and have an inkling of what the killers’ motivation is. As for the family, once the Strangers make their presence known, all the conflict and resentment is shelved in their attempts to survive.
While the presence of smart phones and other technologies ground the movie in the present day, the use of 80’s classics like Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Kinsey’s off-the-shoulder Ramones t-shirt give us an indication that this movie is a throwback to 80’s slasher films. Indeed, the way Doll Face, Pin-Up Girl, and the Man in the Mask move seems reminiscent of Jason Voorhees or Michael Meyers – with the exception that these killers speak in moments chosen to heighten the tension.
With a running time of an hour and 25 minutes, it was always clear that The Strangers: Prey at Night was not going to be an in-depth character study, but instead a fast-paced thriller. On that front, it delivers. But it also does a good job of making the family believable, largely due to the performances of Christina Hendricks and Bailee Madison (although I will admit that after 45 minutes, Madison’s histrionics get a little annoying.)
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