By BRYAN YENTZ
Starring Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullma
Written By Bryan Bertino & Ben Ketai
Directed by Johannes Roberts
That’s how long it’s been since Dollface casually uttered “Because you were home”.
A brilliantly blunt rationale for her triage’s nigh emotionless streak of violence upon a hapless couple. Now, after a decade of silence, the blade-wielding triptych has finally returned to continue their indifferent swathe of bloodshed. But as with any dormant slasher rising from the cinematic grave, beckoned by the caterwauls of fans, was it worth the wait?
Written by the original film’s director/scribe Bryan Bertino (but directed this time around by Johannes Roberts), THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT is—for the most part—a successful sequel that doesn’t simply attempt a rehash of what made the first so welcome. Yes, the tension is slow-burning, the villains casual in their pursuit of victims and the violence apathetic—but this time around, the scope of action is a bit larger; more ambitious. Where the initial foray was but a home-invasion, PREY AT NIGHT succeeds as a chase/survival film.
The plot though, is still as generic as they come. A bickering family (with a stalwart father trying his best to keep everyone together) ventures into a mobile park, and soon, are under attack by Dollface, Pin-Up Girl and the iconic Man in the Mask. Commence the slashing of knives, the screaming of young women and the nostalgic tunes of a surprisingly good soundtrack. Unlike the first film’s focus on cynicism and the utter hopelessness that comes with being hunted by emotionless killers, PREY AT NIGHT seeks to alter the course of depravity by actually allowing its victims the ability to fight back. The roles of mother and father (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) are pretty much throwaways and don’t provide anything other than the mandatory paternal unit needed to usher the kids into action. I wish more had been done with them as both are fine actors and both of their subjects’ personalities are conflicted and worth rooting for. But like most people within the realm of THE STRANGERS, they’re but sheep to the slaughter. Disappointingly, they’re only real purpose herein is to pass the mantle of endurance to that of their brood: son Luke (Lewis Pullman) and daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison).
PREY AT NIGHT does take its time to get going. Early on, the family dysfunction is commendable, but boring as it hits the same tired beats you’ve seen a dozen times over. That, and the early stalking scenes with Dollface, Pin-Up Girl and Man in the Mask are comprised of been-there-done-that actions that are devoid of tension. None of it comes off as scary or intense. The domino-clad killers perform paint-by-numbers functions such as casually approaching their quarry, standing as silhouettes by a window, popping out from the shadows and my personal favorite: standing creepily in plain sight. It’s been ten years and unfortunately, nothing new has been done to make this evil troika intimidating for a new generation. What was effective upon its release in 2008, has now become the bare minimum for this kind of subgenre.
However, once the horror requisites are out of the way and the kids become involved, PREY AT NIGHT shifts gears and alters into that of a far more engaging picture. Not only does the soundtrack shine with both licensed tracks (like Bonnie Tyler & Kim Wilde) and a menacing synth score by Adrian Johnston, but the set-pieces are finally given some life. Yes, the characters perform perfunctory “stupid” moves, but in a welcome addition, also fight back. Luke has a stand-out poolside bout while a vehicular duel of flaming proportions makes up the climax. Are either jaw-dropping sequences of sagacity? No, but they are quite entertaining. Instead of going the conventional route, what I found particularly pleasing was that, unlike many a movie with an unstoppable killer, the masked malefactors of PREY AT NIGHT actually bleed; can actually be fought. They aren’t invincible and where other narratives would take pride in their butchers’ indomitability (like that of Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, etcetera), Bertino and Roberts have kept the antagonists just damageable as their victims.
In a time when the horror genre has evolved and movies like YOU’RE NEXT have elevated the home-invasion subcategory, it’s a definite disappointment that PREY AT NIGHT is nothing more than an above-average slasher with very little aspiration to be anything more. Bryan Bertino is a talented writer (as can be seen in the vastly underrated gem he also directed,” THE MONSTER”), but there’s not a lot of content herein to justify the decade of inactivity; the decade of anticipation. PREY AT NIGHT serves a worthwhile purpose as an homage to slasherdom, and a decent sequel at that, but not much more. Maybe in the next decade we’ll receive a truly stellar addition to THE STRANGERS’ serial slayings.