Ten years after Man in the Mask, Dollface and Pin Up Girl terrorized a warring young couple at a secluded summer home in The Strangers (2008), they return – older, but no wiser – to terrorize a warring family of
four at a deserted trailer park in its sequel. They might not represent the most refined image of digital-age fear, but 47 Meters Down director Johannes Roberts, much like he did with the trashy underwater shark-cage thriller, distills the genre down to its most basic predatory form. He dials down the shock and score, dials up the unhurried steady-cam shots, and taps into the heart of cinematic irrationalism.
We still don’t know who the three masked psychopaths are; we don’t know what is driving them. They operate like a family of three themselves, almost in retaliation to the classics that promote serial killing as an intensely individualistic hobby. In a way, by conveniently managing to haunt the parents and two teenagers at all the most
opportune times in the darkest of corners across the vast green space, they seem to satirically suggest that for every close-knit group of sitting ducks making stereotypical horror-movie decisions, there is an equal and
opposite close-knit group intent on punishing them for their predictability. This perversely self-aware Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-meets-Friday-the-13th exploitation vibe compliments their simplistic single-mindedness – like they were paying homage to the nostalgic definition of screen-horror that might have inspired them.
The only depth the director cares for is that of the bloody gashes inflicted upon the white skin of the family that, frankly, deserves some old-school punishment
As if to remind us of the film’s quaint existence as a dumb ol’ no-strings- attached American slasher flick in this era of overwrought supernaturalism and complicated backstories, the three faceless killers brandish knives and axes in response to the panicked family’s rifles, and slice up their victims exclusively to the peppy sounds of 1980s pop music. One way to look at them, as opposed to their trigger-happy urban counterparts, is as disillusioned Trump fans (mask-man drives a pickup truck, too) desperate to demonstrate the futility of America’s flimsy gun-
control laws in the most misguidedly misanthropic style. The more likely way, though, is that the director considers gruesome death to be a far more agreeable and artful action when dryly performed to the tunes of Air Supply’s ‘Making Love Out of Nothing At All’. And I cannot disagree.
The only depth Roberts cares for is that of the bloody gashes inflicted upon the white skin of the family that, frankly, deserves some old-school punishment. Mostly for manufacturing a troubled daughter (Bailee Madison), whose over-expressive face makes it difficult to distinguish between situations of life-affirming dread and quiet resentment.
As we’ve learned, of course, there’s nothing like a bunch of rampaging maniacs to heal a broken family. That there exists a purist band of murderers intensely protective about a (dying) culture of cinematic spook-and- gore is a strangely reassuring notion in 2018. It is also a depressing one. This film’s inoffensive unoriginality and hybrid tonal aesthetics is a reminder that, for all the socially sound innovation of an Oscar-winning Get Out, Hollywood willfully abets the tired landscape by churning out a dozen identical Annabelle and Conjuring sequels as easy weekend spinners. Even viewers need a break from the ghouls and CGI-powered mindscapes.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is designed as a defiant and antique reaction to these formulaic jump-scare franchises – in the limitless hope that perhaps a few steps back for the genre is actually one step forward. In doing so, they salute every cliché in the book. Either way, a swimming pool flooding with blood while the jukebox belts
out Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ makes for a weirdly addictive big-screen experience. By the time this cult-worthy scene unravels towards the end of 80 brisk minutes, if we’re still obsessing about the undefined motivations of these “strangers” and why they exist, the answer here becomes abundantly clear – Why not?