I was at the library the other day and I saw they had The Strangers: Prey at Night and good lord, I borrowed it again! What is going on with me? Why do I like this movie? It makes little sense because I'm not much of a fan of the first movie, I'm not impressed with the stale masks at all and I find the title itself sorta annoying. And yet, for some reason, I couldn't wait to pop it back into my DVD player and watch it late at night as the world slept with the company of cats and cheap beer. I don't even think I like the characters in this movie. They're very frustrating. The father (Martin Henderson) fails his entire family by suggesting they split up, the mother (Christina Hendricks) lamely allows herself to be stabbed by someone half her size, the brother (Lewis Pullman) never demands that they all leave immediately after discovering their hosts have been murdered and I'm going to need a little more than a RAMONES T-shirt to convince me that the daughter (Bailee Madison) is a rebellious malcontent. This movie is begging me to dislike it but try as I might it looks like I can't.
This is how we all find out what a shallow human being I am. There are two, count-em' two elements that make this movie impossible to resist for me. First off, on a visual level, it looks fantastic. It takes place in the excellent location of a trailer park at night and a spookily lit fog cloaks all of the surroundings and it comes off like a half-remembered bad dream. Everything looks muddled and vague but then there are these blasts of super sharp neon as well. All the interiors are dunked in sleazy seventies brown and gold complete with burlap couches and wood paneling like that once hip Fiona Apple video "Criminal." I'm such a sucker for that faux-sleaze aesthetic, I know it's basic and mid-nineties of me to fall for such a thing and yet I do. It just works so well as an environment for horror and evil shenanigans. In addition, the fact that the abandoned grounds are empty gives off an alienating, end of the world vibe. It kind of reminds me of playing kick-the-can after dark when I was young and feeling like I could be engulfed by darkness at any minute. It also calls to mind how the dark, twisty labyrinth-like alleys and backyards of Haddonfield were so well utilized in the opening of HALLOWEEN II (1982). Â
Speaking of CARPENTER-esque tonal touches, the score and soundtrack are my other soft spot. The repetitive theme by Adrian Johnston is either homage or a blatant rip-off of THE FOG's and apparently my spine is going to tingle to it either way. I also adore director Johannes Roberts (47 METERS DOWN) ace idea to exploit some cold-ass synth-y new wave songs to embellish the kills. It's almost as if the songs report on the atrocities like indifferent bystanders and it somehow accentuates the idea that the universe doesn't care who lives or dies. Taking advantage of Kim Wilde's "Cambodia" is a truly inspired, off the main road choice that I can't help aplauding. What's really surprising though, is how well low-hanging pop tuneage like Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and Air Supply's Â "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" work (when paired with a brutal murder). Both songs were written by Jim Steinman and are known for their over the top theatrics but I'd assume they'd be too familiar and obvious to register much of an impact and apparently, I'd be super wrong. I have to say, this flick's fluorescent pool confrontation is a symphony of exquisite horror-beauty that you don't find many places outside's Michele Soavi's STAGE FRIGHT (1987) or maybe the signature stalk n' skate set-piece from CURTAINS (1982).
I guess STRANGERS: PAN simply fulfills a nostalgic need for me; it reminds me of when I used to be able to watch a movie for payoff alone and with my critical mind fully gagged. The story is thinner than cellophane, the characters are not exceptionally interesting (I'll root for them anyway just because they're humans not looking for trouble) but there's something about the freedom and danger of the night itself that it conveys that I find thrilling. As elementary as it all is, I'm kind of impressed that no kill is a throw-away and that each feels potently, almost romantically, fatalistic and tragic. And maybe the movie is a little deeper than I give it credit for; there's something to be said about how the main character's escalating fortitude coincides with the realization of how much she really does value her parents and sibling. And I think because the victims are a family unit rather than a gaggle of random teens, there's something extra poignant about watching them die (see also THE HILLS HAVE EYES and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT). I dunno. I guess I just wanted to admit I'm a fan. This won't be the first time I had a soft spot for a maligned sequel and it certainly won't ne the last. I guess when it comes to slash-happy horror movies, I'm an old pro at making love out of nothing at all.