The real victim in new 'Strangers' slasher is logic
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"The Strangers: Prey at Night" - ★ ★ ½
Let's face an unspoken truth here.
Some of us love horror films like "The Strangers: Prey at Night" because the victims make such stupefying choices, it's as if the resident homicidal maniacs do humankind a favor by culling the herd of morons.
After discovering mutilated bodies in an isolated mobile home park late at night, would a man send his wife and teen daughter back to their unlocked mobile home alone?
Would this guy's son, armed with a revolver, shoot a masked assailant violently stabbing his little sister? Or politely order the assailant to stop?
It's hard to believe that "true events" really inspired Johannes Roberts' atmospheric little splatterfest.
"Prey at Night" writers Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai don't trust that Roberts (director of Mandy Moore's 2017 shark tank thriller "47 Metres Down") can hook an audience with a family driving into a foggy mobile home park dotted with diffused streetlights, eerily recalling Father Merrin's nocturnal Georgetown arrival in "The Exorcist."
So, after an unimpressive "shocker" opening, "Prey at Night" introduces the Stupid family: Cindy (Christina Hendricks), hubby Mike (Martin Henderson), rebellious teen daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and boring son Luke (Lewis Pullman).
Kinsey's parents are shipping her to boarding school, even though they can't afford it. Luke noticed Mom canceled the cable TV.
Enough chitchat. Fast-forward to Uncle Marv's mobile home park.
Kinsey and Luke find the victims from the lame opening sequence, tell Dad Stupid, who sends Mom Stupid and Sis Stupid back to their unlocked trailer while he and Son Stupid investigate.
Could there be masked Manson Family wannabes waiting in the dark while Mom Stupid ponders who smashed the cellphones in the kitchen?
Does it ever dawn on Sis Stupid that her shrieking, crying and loud breathing might be broadcasting, "Hey, Dollface killer! I'm over here!"?
Movies like "Prey at Night" (including its 2008 original "The Strangers," an unpleasant home invasion thriller wallowing in the torment and killings of Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) usually receive painfully low ratings.
Hold the smashed phone.
Cinematographer Ryan Samul, who shot Jim Mickle's handsome 2013 domestic shocker "We Are What We Are," turns every frame of "Prey at Night" into a mood-driven, painterly experience with stylish enhancements, such as human eyes match-dissolving into fog-encrusted night lamps.
Horror fans will delight in recognizing homages to suspense/horror tales, among them the end of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," the monster truck from Steven Spielberg's "Duel," composer Adrian Johnston's tribute to John Carpenter's "Halloween," and the visual nod to "The Exorcist."
Roberts directs "Prey at Night" as a bloody valentine to old-school '70s and '80s movies, raiding period jukeboxes of pivotal songs such as "Total Eclipse of the Heart" with its lyrics "Every now and then I fall apart" timed to generate a little irony.
Like villains in vintage mad slasher movies, "The Strangers" franchise will not die easily. Roberts has seen to that.
Just remember, no matter now many Stupid family members die, Hollywood can hire their many relatives for "The Strangers: The Final Chapter, But Not Really."
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Starring: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman
Directed by: Johannes Roberts
Other: An Aviron Pictures release. Rated R for language, violence. 81 minutes