Review: The Strangers: Prey at Night
Over time, The Strangers has become a point of fascination for many horror fans since its release in the summer of 2008. Overlooked by critics at the time as another low budget B-movie with a simplistic, straightforward plot, it has gone on to become a defining entry in the genre’s canon for the 21st century. So of course, a sequel was expected, and after being stuck in development hell for 10 years, we finally have a follow-up in the form of The Strangers: Prey at Night.
Sadly, what we’re left with is a sorry excuse of a sequel, that tries to mix up the formula with questionable results. This time around the story concerns a family of four (Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, and Lewis Pullman) off for a weekend in a mobile home park that’s been deserted post-Labor Day. Just like with the first, they are terrorized by three masked strangers with a desire to kill and prey on the defenseless; leading to tense number of life-and-death situations.
If you’ve seen one slasher film where a group of people attempt to evade or ward off mysterious attackers with bloody results, chances are you’re not going to get a whole lot out of The Strangers: Prey at Night. All the overly conventional tropes of the subgenre are here - jump scares, cut phone lines, godawful line deliveries, and plenty of stupid decisions made along the way. Even at a swift 85 minute runtime the story’s sense of pacing is off, as we are subjected to a languid first act over the family’s inner dilemmas that don’t form any sort of meta-commentary or get revisited in any way later on, in fact these characters are so unlikeable you don’t really feel anything when faced with near-certain death.
The biggest sin committed by The Strangers: Prey at Night is that nothing feels new about it. The only major change compared to the original is its attempt to make riff of the contemporary John Carpenter-esque revival of 80s-style horror (It Follows, The House of the Devil). This comes in a very deliberate sense through the range of throwback pop hits in its soundtrack (“Kids in America”, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”) to a neon-tinged fight scene set around a swimming pool.
This tongue-in-cheek quirkiness director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) surrounds the film with never clicks; not only because its derivative, but because such a decision would require a quirky tone from the start to complement it (not unlike Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s own 80s throwback slasher You’re Next). These elements become overly confusing as a result, if not disingenuous - trying to resuscitate a familiar IP and surround it with what’s popular today, without having a clue of how to properly execute either one.
There is nothing really of value to The Strangers: Prey at Night, further complicated by the fact that it’s attempts to scare either fall flat or come off as unintentionally hilarious. Just how the film managed to get a wide theatrical release over being relegated to the VOD wasteland is a surprise. It severs what made its predecessor so effective, leaving a rotting corpse in its wake.