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Movie review: 'The Strangers: Prey at Night' a simple, stupid homage to cheesy horror

By: Michael O'Sullivan The Washington Post
March 9, 2018 Updated: March 9, 2018 at 4:35 am
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Pinup Girl, Man in the Mask and Dollface are back 10 years later to terrorize a family. MUST CREDIT: Brian Dogulas, Aviron Pictures

Starring Bailee Madison, Emma Bellomy, Lewis Pullman, Christina Hendricks, Lea Enslin, Damian Maffei; directed by Johannes Roberts; 81 minutes; R for horror violence and terror throughout and for coarse language.

A follow-up to the 2008 cult horror hit "The Strangers," "The Strangers: Prey at Night" isn't really a sequel, at least not in the accepted sense of the word. Rather than advancing the story - about a couple terrorized by three masked assailants wielding knives and an ax - "Prey at Night" merely repeats that formula, swapping out the first film's victims for two new characters.

Teenage Luke (Lewis Pullman) and younger sister Kinsey (Bailee Madison) aren't so much people as pawns, fresh meat that keeps getting pushed around an increasingly blood-soaked chessboard.

During a stopover with their parents on the way to drop Kinsey off at boarding school, they're stalked by the same trio of theatrical psychopaths we met 10 years ago: two young women in Halloween masks, known as Dollface and Pinup Girl (Emma Bellomy and Lea Enslin, respectively), and a man (Damian Maffei) with a burlap sack over his head emblazoned with a crude, scarecrow face.

You've got to give credit to Bryan Bertino, who wrote and directed the first film on a shoestring budget of $9 million, and who co-wrote this one (with Ben Ketai) before handing the reins to director Johannes Roberts ("47 Meters Down"). At least he sticks to the filmmaking mantra that has guided so many horror auteurs: Keep it simple, stupid.

In this case, unfortunately, Roberts has opted to keep it simple and stupid, eschewing recognizable human behavior for set pieces that look good but make no rational sense. One lurid, extended sequence takes place in and around a neon-lit pool, where the Man in the Mask goes after Luke, injuring him amid an expanding plume of blood in the aquamarine water. Of course, all that beautiful if garish cinematography would have been for naught if Luke had held on to the gun he found a few moments earlier instead of tossing it away, inexplicably.

The whole thing has the air of a cynical, low-quality knockoff of something that wasn't even very good.

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