Though The Strangers: Prey At Night may be just as sadistic as its predecessor, it fell victim to the horror movie tropes the first film so mercilessly abandoned.
When it was first released in 2008, The Strangers dropped like a punch in the gut. It was ruthless, unforgiving, the protagonists weren’t safe – and as an audience, this experience was as unfamiliar as it was jarring. We didn’t understand anything about our killers, their quirks, or their motivations. Horror fans were quick to embrace the film for its nihilistic take on life, death, and the moments in-between. The general film going public however, didn’t enjoy the uncomfortable experience all too well; rejecting the film as “pointless”, “sadistic”, and “ugly”.
It’s as if The Strangers: Prey at Night wanted to nestle somewhere in-between both camps – to be a film about deranged, nihilistic killers – but to provide some kind of narrative, some emotional through-line to keep the audience from dividing so finitely. In doing so, it became an adequate sequel, but a terrible The Strangers follow-up.
“The Strangers follow a familiar routine of Ding-Dong-Ditch before seemingly subduing the residents of a tiny trailer..”
We kick off with a vague cold-open, where The Strangers (now hereby referring to our three masked assailants; Doll-Face, Man in the Mask, and Pin-up Girl and not the first film) follow a familiar routine of Ding-Dong-Ditch before seemingly subduing the residents of a tiny trailer. Then, in the first big diversion from the previous film, we meet our potential victims protagonists several hours prior to the home invasion.
In the first film, the crumbling relationship between the two leads, Kristen and James (portrayed by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, respectively) unfolded to us throughout their tragic home invasion. The pair bumbled around, emotionally drained, literally fighting for their lives at the most inopportune moment. We, as the audience – had to deduce who wanted what, where it went south, and then throw it all aside – as the characters did – for none of it mattered now. There were three people who didn’t care. And they had knives. And, the unique hobby of putting those knives inside other people.
The Strangers: Prey At Night spells out the families’ emotional turmoil a little more blatantly. We are allowed to stew in the teenage angst. Cindy (Christina Hendricks), the matriarch of this dysfunctional little family, tries to round up a crying Kinsey (Bailee Madison) for a family getaway. We can tell right away that Kinsey is a handful. She has ripped jeans, a plaid shirt haphazardly tied around her waist, and a slouchy Ramones tee no doubt picked up at Hot Topic. Kinsey carts her own luggage to the car, where we meet an all too optimistic dad, Mike (Martin Henderson). Unfortunately, Mike‘s only character development from here to the bloody goal post is that he doesn’t know what the word Queef means. They then pick up their second teenager, Luke (Lewis Pullman), at the ballpark, in what can only be described as an excuse to extend the film’s run-time.
The car is loaded, the entire family inside, and they set off to their destination – their Aunt and Uncle’s secluded trailer park. Not before stopping at a roadside diner to really hit home the fact that mom and daughter don’t get along; so much so that Kinsey is quite literally being carted off to boarding school right after this little family getaway.
“I eagerly anticipated how the deranged, masked assailants would wreak havoc across a larger playing field – an entire trailer park..”
When they finally arrive at the trailer park, and I do mean finally, all is quiet. They drive sickeningly slow towards the park’s office, which is marked ‘CLOSED’ – something most would find foreboding, but Cindy walks right on in. Grabbing a set of keys off the counter and reading the note that says ‘Cabin 47, see you in the morning‘, they head to their sleeping quarters.
This is when the The Strangers: Prey at Night finally kicks into motion. As a big fan of the original film, I eagerly anticipated how the deranged, masked assailants would wreak havoc across a larger playing field – an entire trailer park. Their first flick’s tricks of un-screwing the porch lights and flattening tires simply wouldn’t be enough this go-around. Their prey could simply hop trailer to trailer in their attempted escape, keeping this home-invasion invading anew until morning. A film which should have brought more plotting, should have delivered a more heinous and ruthless variety of the three killers – kind of fell flat.
Yes, we did run from trailer to trailer, but each time falling into a familiar horror trope. The killer is already in there. The killer is already in there, too. Our masked assailants had no rhyme or reason, and in a space so vast – they became less threatening. For the second time in two films they found themselves at the losing end of a revolver. (What’s the term.. bringing Knives to a gun fight?) It seems as if their assault banked entirely on luck. In the first film, they had the upper-hand; there were three of them, their victims were exhausted guinea pigs trapped on a spinning wheel. In The Strangers: Prey at Night, you practically expect The Strangers to cross their fingers in hopes that someone would run onto a certain pool deck so they could finally turn on the sick neon pool lights and play that 80s track on blast.
Overall, The Strangers: Prey at Night delivered as an adequate horror film. There were tropes, homages, and comeuppances. Unfortunately, it’s just not a Strangers film.