Coming 10 years after Bryan Bertino’s haunting home invasion horror The Strangers (2008), this belated sequel offers the same taut suspense and chillingly downbeat domestic horror as its predecessor. While Bertino’s original film played out within the claustrophobic confines of an isolated family home, his screenplay for Prey at Night drags the bloodied action kicking and screaming into the night air of an eerily deserted trailer park, where a family of four who have stopped off for the night fall prey to three masked psychopaths. Even before we arrive at the trailer park, with its palpable sense of isolation, tension is already simmering as the fraught dynamics of the bickering family (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson as the sympathetic parents, Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman as their teenaged offspring) are explored and a sense of quiet realism established. Shortly after the family arrive at the deserted trailer park the ante is immediately upped, and events unfold in a number of seamlessly executed set-pieces: a nasty confrontation by a neon-lit swimming pool is a particularly bloodcurdling highlight.
Director Johannes Roberts’ stylish approach doesn’t detract from the nauseating levels of suspense he maintains throughout. His use of stealthily creeping tracking shots, pans and zooms help to create a sense of unease as tension is established from the opening shot and builds slowly until it becomes unbearable. Striking images also abound as the killers’ ghostly white masks lurk on the periphery of the darkened screen and a flaming truck advances through the night towards a desperate victim crawling along a bridge. The use of several 80s power ballads in certain moments of violence creates a striking and unsettling juxtaposition and with its minimalist electronic score, Prey at Night exhibits a pleasing 80s aesthetic. While some fun is had with the soundtrack, and there are little nods to the likes of Scream and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the rest of the film is played dead straight, right down to its steadfast perpetuation of familiar slasher movie conventions. The tension is so well mounted though that the lack of irony doesn’t detract from the overall impact.
One of the most chilling aspects of Prey at Night is the idea that the three masked strangers have absolutely no motive for doing what they do, they simply do it because they want to, selecting their victims at random — or simply happening upon them. This case of wrong-place-wrong-time speaks to contemporary fears of violence and isolation and is expertly exploited here. Bertino and Roberts understand that to keep their antagonists scary, they need to keep them, literally and figuratively, enshrouded in the shadow of mystery. Other slasher sequels that attempted to explore the backgrounds and motivations of their villains ended up demystifying them and completely stripping them of their power.
Those who admired The Strangers will find much to enjoy in this lean, mean, terrific exercise in nerve-wrecking tension.
24 Aug 2018