(plot spoilers below)
Does The Strangers: Prey at Night invoke one of the most familiar nocturnal bogeys of all time?
I know I have “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” on the brain of late, but it seems to me that the ending of the 2018 home-invasion thriller alludes to the climax of the Washington Irving story. In the film, fiery final girl Kinsey is chased across a quasi-covered bridge by a flaming pickup truck. Kinsey stumbles before she can reach safety, but (in a reverse of the events of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) the axe-wielding Man in the Mask doesn’t get to deliver his capitally-punishing blow after climbing down from his steel steed (his burns/injuries cause him to topple headlong).
Admittedly, I could be reading too much into this scene, but perhaps not, considering that The Strangers: Prey at Night proves repeatedly allusive. The setting in a town named Gatlin Lake recalls Stephen King’s Children of the Corn. A scene where Dollface taunts Kinsey (who has locked herself inside a police cruiser) by waving the vehicle’s keys at her mimics Ghostface’s menacing in Scream. And the conclusion here, which has Kinsey narrowly escape her attacker (the Man in the Mask has gotten up for another go at her) by jumping into the bed of a passerby’s pickup, is an obvious nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
One other thought on the way things play out in The Strangers: Prey at Night: in my unsolicited opinion, the film missed the opportunity for a wicked climactic twist. The plot is set in motion as Kinsey’s family drives the troubled teenager (who clearly is not happy about being shipped off) to her new boarding school; wouldn’t it have been great if the Strangers turned out to be the avowed bad influences her parents were attempting to get Kinsey away from in the first place? Their murderous ambush could have been given Kinsey’s conspiratorial blessing, or conducted without her knowledge (until a devastating realization at film’s end). Alas, the screenwriters didn’t pursue either possibility, but they nevertheless scripted an entertaining follow-up to the harrowing 2008 original.