THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT **** USA 2018 Dir: Johannes Roberts. 85 mins
This long-gestating sequel, although boasting the same “based on true events” tag, shuns the grimness and slow-burn terror of its predecessor in favour of briskly paced 80s slasher-style cat-and-mouse thrills. After a nicely creepy stranger-in-bed pre-titles frisson typical of its inspiration, we follow a troubled family, stopping off at a family member’s lakeside trailer en route to dropping their rebellious, Ramones-loving daughter (Bailee Madison) at boarding school. The unlikeable adults (Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson) are side-lined pretty swiftly, leaving Madison and her kid brother to do the survivalist thing when the trio of masked strangers show up, again initiated by a persistent door-knocker asking “Is Tamara home?”
Talented filmmaker Roberts – who enjoyed commercial hits with the 47 METERS DOWN movies – has fun with a stripped-down, single-night fight to the death set to 1980s pop music. One shock midpoint death is set to Mental As Anything’s “Live It Up” and Adrian Johnston’s terrific old-school synth score dovetails with wittily employed period gems from Air Supply, Kim Wilde and, most impressively, Bonnie Tyler’s immortal “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.
The suspense and scare set-ups are handled with real flair and it conforms to type in terms of its jump scares, disposable characters (Hello, Officer Dead Meat) and an ambiguous, circular ending. Roberts nods enough to the original, offering a variation of that film’s most chilling dialogue exchange: “Why are you doing this?” someone asks; “Why not?” is the detached response. Overall, however, it errs nostalgically closer to vintage slashers like FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 and, most importantly, gives us a mightily resilient final girl worth rooting for.
Review by Steven West