The Strangers: Prey at Night (aka The Strangers: Part 2) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
2008’s The Strangers was a simple and effective little slasher picture which solidly staged all the familiar elements with an earnest drive. The masked killers, the tense atmosphere, the surprises in the scares; it’s all there and it worked rather well for what it was. Now we return once more with The Strangers: Prey at Night and with a budget as slashed as its victims, there’s an itch that feels unscratched in this sequel. All the kills and nitty-gritty of silent stabbers is still there, but now there’s a clawing to harp on that 1980s nostalgia train that has gone running away on fire. Prey at Night can hardly hang on to the caboose.
I must admit though that I do appreciate the almost quaint setup for such a film. A family of four is taking a trip to an aunt and uncle at a trailer park. The visiting folks include the snippy mother (Christina Hendricks), a playful father (Martin Henderson), an aggravated teenage daughter (Bailee Madison), and a fairly average teenage son (Lewis Pullman). They’re not quite connecting but they’ll have to bond fast when they arrive in the darkly lit trailer park to discover that their aunt and uncle have been brutally murdered. It isn’t long before the masked killers of Pin-Up Girl, Dollface, and the less detailed Man in the Mask start attacking and the family is off to the races for the cat and mouse game of killer versus victim.
The tension is still there even if the creepy atmosphere feels a little bit forced at times. The killers remain silent when hiding behind their masks, never revealing anything more than the sharp weapons they choose to gut other people with. This creates a lot of allure and fear when the murderers are right behind their victims, taking a few moments of silent contemplation in admiring the mundane before finishing off their targets. It’s intense and creates a lot of surprises where a lesser film might have resorted to a twist or jumpscare to seem grander. Director Johannes Roberts has the guts to spill the guts when a killer corners his victim and takes the time to take it slow. There’s enough time for someone to burst in from behind to save the day but this isn’t that kind of slasher movie.
But as the film reaches the third act chases of the killers that take a lot of pounding to kill, it becomes desperate to hit that 1980s vibe. Rather than naturally reach that nostalgic twinge, the film struggles to crowbar in that throwback appeal almost as though it was entirely inserted within post-production. It almost seems as though all of it was tossed in during the pool scene, where Lewis Pullman stumbles into a public pool that activates neon lights and a 1980s soundtrack. And, of course, the soundtrack will continue as the Man in the Mask starts swiping at him with an ax in hand. I’m just not feeling it. Another scene feels more forced when the same masked killer corners a victim in the car and takes a moment to tune the radio to an 80s song before delivering the final blow. Maybe those old tunes are what fuel their bloodlust.
If only this Strangers sequel had the perspective to steer this bloody ship into its own style rather than sliding painfully into the 80s scene, it could have been a great return for the 10th anniversary of the little horror film that could. It instead tries to slap on a coat of neon and settle in some synth for an atmosphere that comes off more uninspired than its predecessor. There’s some merit in this film that certainly makes it a step up from the usual horror affair, but when it comes to establishing its own tone, it could use a heftier dose of originality considering the 1980s nostalgia train is derailing quick.