UK Release Date: 4th May 2018
Runtime: 85 minutes
Director: Johannes Roberts
Writer: Bryan Bertino, Ben Ketai
Starring: Christina Hendricks, Lewis Pullman, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, Damian Maffei, Emma Bellomy, Lea Enslin
Synopsis: A family staying in a secluded trailer park outside of the holiday season are pursued and attacked by a trio of masked home invaders.
There’s nothing wrong with horror tropes and conventions if they’re done well. The entire career of James Wan is predicated upon his ability to create movies within the confines of the genre formula, while showcasing complete mastery over executing that formula. The same is unfortunately not true of director Johannes Roberts when it comes to The Strangers: Prey at Night – a movie that gets bogged down in its penchant for nodding to the past, while failing to pull off a compelling slasher story in the present.
Roberts is a variable genre filmmaker, capable of producing something as tense and compelling as shark attack thriller 47 Metres Down, but also as misguided and dull as The Other Side of the Door. A sequel to a barely remembered 2008 home invasion horror, Prey at Night sits somewhere between the two as a cine-literate thrill ride that doesn’t quite manage the scares it needs.
The setup is simple, with parents Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson taking a final trip with their two teenage kids before their troubled daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) goes off to boarding school. They’re in a caravan park that’s completely empty and unoccupied, but for three masked individuals who, after a while spent standing completely still and looking menacing, start trying to hack, slash, stab or otherwise kill the various family members.
With its ventures into neon-hued style and constant juxtaposition of violence and 1980s power ballads, there’s a world in which Prey at Night could have really worked. It is reaching for the self-referential stylings of Adam Wingard‘s You’re Next and The Guest, but it falls considerably short of that high bar. Roberts, with the first film’s director Bryan Bertino on co-scripting duties with Ben Ketai, instead drowns in homage, from Friday the 13th and Halloween to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The entire roster of performers is completely wasted, with Christina Hendricks a particularly talented member of the ensemble given absolutely nothing to do with her meagre screen time. The pick of the bunch is Bailee Madison, who manages to look convincingly scared as she stands in amongst the swinging axes and slashing blades. Even she, though, has no room to create a rounded or interesting character because the film has another dozen hacky-stabby set pieces to get through.
Everything about the film appears to be derivative, with very little sense of the joy and reverence that should come across in a movie built on the foundations of homage. Prey at Night is decidedly lacking in either originality or the scares that can come from familiarity in the execution of tropes. There’s nothing wrong with being derivative if it’s done well, but this simply wallows in the evocation of what has happened before – not a recipe for success.
Pop or Poop?
It’s a shame that The Strangers: Prey at Night doesn’t work out as it has many of the constituent parts necessary for the conceit to fly. However, Johannes Roberts simply throws in too many nods and references to ever execute a story that works in its own way – despite some stylish flourishes of 80s nostalgia.
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