By Richard Roeper
The Strangers: Prey at Night
Directed by Johannes Robert
THESE horror movie families (HMFs) continue to test my patience.
The typical HMF continues to make the same mistakes committed by their bloody cinematic predecessors:
• Knowing danger is lurking somewhere in the foggy woods outside their isolated homestead, they run into the night.
• When they hear a mysterious, eerie, creepy sound in the attic or the basement or a back bedroom, they call out, “Who’s there!” and then walk right toward the frightening noise.
• As they scramble away from danger, they can never find the knife drawer, they’re stunned to learn someone has cut the land line, and they lock themselves in the bathroom and cower as the evil force chips away at the flimsy door.
• They forget to charge their phones, they often put down a gun or a knife, and at a key moment — if they DO manage to knock out the monstrous foe — they almost always do one of two things:
1. Hover over the “body” so it can spring to life and grab them by the throat.
2. Turn their back on the prone figure so it can rise up and run at them.
I’ll not say which of these miscues are committed by the HMF in The Strangers: Prey at Night, but I will say this stylish and well-choreographed throwback splatter film doesn’t come close to avoiding a number of cliches.
This is a loose sequel to The Strangers (2008), which starred Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a couple in a rocky relationship who are attacked at their summer vacation house by three masked villains: a tall man wearing a brown suit, his face and head covered by a mummy-esque mask (he’s known as “Man in the Mask”), and two girls wearing plastic masks with round eyes (they’re “Dollface” and “Pin-Up Girl”).
Nearly a decade later, The Man in the Mask, Dollface, and Pin-Up Girl are again stalking their prey, seemingly at random. That seems to be about the only connection to the original.
Christina Hendricks is Cindy and Martin Henderson is her husband, Mike. Along with their teenage son, Luke (Lewis Pullman), and younger teen daughter, Kinsey (Bailee Madison), they’re going to spend the night in one of the cabins on a downscale summer resort property run by “Uncle Marvin.” (This is to be a stop on the way to dropping off the troublesome Kinsey at a nearby boarding school.)
It’s after Labor Day, so the grounds are unpopulated, quiet, foggy and forbidding. If you or I drove onto that site, we’d say, “This looks EXACTLY like the setting for a horror movie. Let’s go find a Motel 8!”
Sure enough, the family is just settling in when there’s a jarring knock on the door, and within the hour, Man in the Mask, Dollface, and Pin-Up Girl are systematically hunting them down.
Director Johannes Roberts is clearly a fan of films such as Christine and Halloween. The production elements are first-rate, including the expansive setting that includes multiple cabins, a playground, and a swimming pool.
For reasons not explained, Man in the Mask digs cheesy pop confections from the 1980s, blasting tunes by Kim Wilde, Bonnie Tyler, and Air Supply as he bears down on his victims. This makes for some darkly funny moments, including a sequence when Kinsey and Man in the Mask go at it like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the final round. Is someone finally going to go down? Will they both make it to the bell?
And when, for the love of God, are these horror movie families going to LEARN? — Chicago Sun-Times/Andrews McMeel Syndication
MTRCB Rating: R-16