The Strangers: Prey at Night

The Strangers: Prey at Night ★★★½

Dan Bremner's short and sweet review says it all, so go take 10 seconds to read it, if you please: letterboxd.com/themostreviews/film/the-strangers-prey-at-night/

Except that I would say the neon inflections of the movie were more than I'd hoped since I didn't realize there would be any (there was nothing '80s about the first "Strangers", as I recall). You might argue that the '80s aesthetic is a weakness, at least logically - it's established that we're in the present day with cell phones and such, yet everywhere they go there's nothing but '80s music playing. Oh wait, that kind of does describe the 2010s, doesn't it? Well played, movie...

But it's also a great treat for us fans of the era! The lettering in the titles, the mood-drenched and/or wildly dramatic song selections (Kim Wilde, Tiffany, Air Supply, Bonnie Tyler), the pure unadorned adherence to slasher movie protocol. Director Johannes Roberts did "47 Meters Down" and his paradoxical technique of deliberate pacing within a concise package does this next movie of his similar favors, showing a care for craft but no trace of over-indulgence. And even though it all takes place in an abandoned trailer park after dark, it glows with a fairly rich visual palette, particularly the vibrant greens mixed with the shrouds of fog, and all the expert lighting in every scene. Made me think of the crisp cinematography from 1998's "Urban Legend". If more slasher movies looked like these two, I'd be way more forgiving of them.

As a sequel, this is clearly an improvement. The first one was more uncomfortable to sit through, to its...credit(?), but in the end its nihilism was numbing and its homage to both Carpenter's "Halloween" and the French film "Them (Ils)" felt more like empty plagiarism. Part 2 isn't just a re-telling but a refinement through re-branding. It's more streamlined and over-the-top, still creepy but readymade for lighter entertainment. Let's just say the trio of masked psychos don't get away quite so easily this time, and if we're dealing in unoriginal slasher fare, that's the direction I personally would prefer this series to travel instead of just being hopeless and traumatizing.

The only flaw I consider worth pointing out is that the characters are interchangeable ciphers. There's a chance we'll never see a third "Strangers" (it took 'em 10 years to get the second one off the ground and it made much less money than the first...I for one apologize for not going out to see it in theaters. I regret that.) but if so, hopefully they'll either write more dynamic protagonists or at least get more creative with the casting (this group is adequate; the producers could do better).

And yes, there is a centerpiece sequence in a swimming pool that is wonderfully cinematic and unpredictable, a highlight of the whole show.

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