Let’s call Prey at Night a step-sequel to Bryan Bertino’s terrifying 2008 debut feature; all the two movies really share is a name. Even the three masked killers terrorizing the family of four led by Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) in a deserted trailer park could be different joy-killers altogether. Maybe they are copycats, imitating the three nihilists who slew Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman a decade ago.
All of these thoughts make me feel better about this sort-of sequel, which I really want to like. British director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) relies way more on his style than Bertino did. Individual scenes succeed on their own; the flaming truck (a nod to Carpenter’s Stephen King adaptation, Christine?) and the neon pool scene (“Hotline: Miami,” anyone?) are far more memorable than the movie itself. Roberts even throws in a De Palma-reffing split diopter, because why not?
Where The Strangers was a brutal beast, both subtle and terrifying, the sequel is all style, with no real scares. I applaud the filmmakers for eschewing lazily reheating the first film’s freezer-burned leftovers, but calling a new slasher movie The Strangers should mean something. Bertino’s film should be a modern watershed for the subgenre. Were this merely Prey at Night, a sweet ode to ’70s-ploitation (why not make it period while you’re at it?), I would wholeheartedly endorse its stylish charms and overlook its stilted family dynamics. But the movie has self-identified itself as a Strangers sequel, which means way more terror was expected than was delivered.
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