Prey at Night
I’ll never be able to listen to Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America’ in the same way, ever again.
For most of writer-director Bryan Bertino’s 2008 debut The Strangers we were able to…just about…tell ourselves that these three masked figures who were invading a family home were — at the very worst — extremely sadistic pranksters. Talk about optimistic. Then that genuinely shocking, upsetting, left-a-bad-taste-in-the-mouth finale helped to rid us of that notion.
So, as the prologue to this Johnny-comes-lately of a sequel begins, we know that these sinister characters are the spiritual Children of Charles Manson. We know that beneath the kidding around they’re not kidding around. Which makes the fist-pumping euphoria of ‘Kids in America’ blasting from their jeep all the more ironic. This time, right from the start there is no toying with the prologue couple that they are about to slaughter.
The Man in the Mask, Doll-Face and Pin-Up are back. We’re the kids in America. And we know that you’re alone now.
There is something primal in the apprehension and even fear that heavy, thudding knocks on the door in the wee small hours brings out in you, isn’t there? Likewise, there is something terribly disconcerting about looking into the rigid, unchanging features of a mask that has all of the basic elements of the human face – eyes, nose, mouth – and yet remains blank and emotionless.
So it is with Doll-Face and with Pin-Up; but — The Man, the Axe-Dragger – he’s somehow worse, for all that it’s essentially only a hood of sack-cloth that he’s wearing. There’s just that suggestion of human features. Just that suggestion. But it’s enough; and it’s just a bit too much like that of a medieval executioner for comfort.
I’ll never be able to listen to Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ in the same way, ever again.
Look ye, men and women, boys and girls: this is how you do it right. Unlike a piece of dross such as last month’s Truth or Dare, where you couldn’t give a toss about whether or not any of those annoying brats survived, why don’t we get some people who can act, give them characters that they can develop beyond two dimensions and make them into people that we care about. That way, we’re rooting for them, no matter how hopeless it looks, right?
Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and Mike (Martin Henderson) are parents who are having an unspecified problem with their daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison). We’re not quite sure what she’s done, but whatever it was, it has warranted her being sent off to boarding school. The kid is none too happy about this set-up, but her parents are genuinely supportive of her, as is her brother Luke (Lewis Pullman). And, as if Mum & Dad have been overdosing on the Oprah or Dr. Phil shows, they have arranged for all four of them to stay at an aunt and uncle’s winter-abandoned trailer park.
Abandoned trailer park. Dead of night. No sign of aunt and uncle on arrival. And someone’s left a still-warm, half-eaten takeaway in the trailer they’re moving into.
Some people would be better off watching more horror films instead of Phil ‘n’ Oprah. Seriously.
And so the Strangers show up and from that moment it is a gory fight for survival. This time around Bryan Bertino leaves the directing to Johannes Roberts whilst he co-writes with Ben Ketai. And the result is a better sequel than the original; and that original wasn’t half bad.
I’ll never be able to listen to Air Supply’s ‘Nothing at All’ in the same way, ever again.
Quite frankly I found The Strangers: Prey at Night pretty terrifying. Sure, there are times when it succumbs to that affliction that seems to discommode a lot of horror movie characters – you know, when they make a decision that is almost preternaturally, spectacularly stupid. Then again, I was in the safety of my seat, not running like the clappers from axe-wielding/ knife- wielding maniacs. I suspect that kind of thing can throw a guy’s judgment right off.
Sure, it overeggs the pudding at the end – as usual.
And sure, that subtitle is really bloody awful. Ten years between films and that’s the best they could come up with?
Yet despite its flaws, there is this feeling that – unlike, say, Mexican demons who want to play a game of Truth or Dare with you — these frightening, totally psychopathic murdering bastards out there who will kill you just for the hell of it… they could really exist. In fact, we know that they do exist.
And this movie is bloody tense, once it gets going.
It keeps the jump-cuts ’way down and when they do come, well, in the main they work. In general we get a growing feeling of dread; of creeping fear. And most of the shocks grow almost organically from the space around the characters. This is definitely a superior horror movie. Of course, we’re going to get the usual lunkheads dismissing it with a critically expansive That was shit, Man. Didn’t scare me at all.
Yeah, well…as Mr. S. King has pointed out in his examination of the horror genre, Danse Macabre, an awful lot of toughies go to horror movies in packs. He dares to wonder how one of these dismissive types would get on if watching something like… oh, take this one for instance… at around two in the morning. On their own. My bet is that they would be looking over their shoulders more than once.
I’ll never be able to listen to Kim Wilde’s ‘Cambodia’ in the same way, ever again.
For myself, I had that aforementioned feeling of dread for a lot of this film and was given an actual scare on two occasions. Three, if you count the one that came after the movie finished.
There I was, doing my very convincing impression of being a supernerd by sitting until the credits had finished rolling. Now, unless it’s a Marvel film this pretty much guarantees that you’re sitting in an empty cinema by the end. Only in this case I had no idea there were a couple of kindred spirits behind me. Jeez, when they stood up I nearly went through the roof. Bad.
A lot of things make this film work, not least of all a central performance from the astonishing 19-year old Bailee Madison as Kinsey. A bad casting choice here would have been disastrous; but Ms. Madison manages to be your typical, sulky teenager without being any the less likeable – something that applies to her entire screen family and which made me want them to survive.
And of course there is the great use of music – although as you will have gathered, you will never hear some of your favourites in quite the same way again. In particular, Kim Wilde’s ‘Cambodia’ is the backdrop to one of the most upsetting, coldly clinical and horribly intimate screen murders I’ve ever seen. How anyone can remain unaffected by this one is beyond me.
As to the soundtrack proper, Adrian Johnston gives it the feel of having been ripped from the pages of John Carpenter’s ‘Lost Themes’. And the film itself is not afraid to pay genuine homage to other horror films. Keep your wits about you and you’ll spot a couple of foreign movies as well as a ginormous nod to one of the daddy’s of them all. From Texas.
And as I say, in the end it is the nihilistic feel coming from this gang that is so horrifying. It is the idea that these kind of monsters can actually be out there.
Ten years ago, when one of the masks was asked:
“Why are you doing this to us?” the terrifying answer was:
“Because you were home”.
This time around the answer is:
And I don’t honestly know which one is more chilling.