Time: 85 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence, offensive language & horror
Bailee Madison as Kinsey
Lewis Pullman as Luke
Christina Hendricks as Cindy
Martin Henderson as Mike
Damian Maffei as Man in the Mask
Director: Johannes Roberts
A family’s road trip takes a dangerous turn when they arrive at a secluded mobile home park to stay with some relatives and find it mysteriously deserted. Under the cover of darkness, three masked psychopaths pay them a visit to test the family’s every limit as they struggle to survive.
The Strangers originally released back in 2008 and became something of a horror classic, especially when it comes to home invasion movies. However, I was one of the rare people who didn’t think it was very good. Strangely it ended up getting a sequel 10 years later, and while I heard some mixed things about it, it gained something of a cult following. I decided to check it out despite my scepticism, especially since some people have said that it was distinctly different to the first movie. I’m glad to say that I enjoyed it, way more than I was expecting.
First thing to note going in this is that its not essential to have watched the first Strangers movie beforehand. The only similarity between the two movies other than the title is that the killers wear the same masks and have the same names. The approach to the movie is also different, which extends to its style. Whereas the original Strangers was going for a realistic home invasion, Prey at Night is a 70s and 80s slasher inspired horror film. I never felt that the first Strangers movie really worked with its attempt at realism, but I think Prey at Night worked much better for me. I thought the first half an hour was a little bland and underwhelming to begin with. During this segment it tries to make you care for the characters by focusing on a family with some problems. While it doesn’t feel lazily tacked on, it is cliched and is almost forgotten about once people start being killed, so it doesn’t seem to matter. From the moment that characters notice that things aren’t right however, that’s when it started to work for me. Its filled with thrills and I had a lot of fun with it, culminating in an intense and bloody third act. Prey at Night is under 90 minutes, and I think that it was the right length for this film. I wouldn’t claim that this film is original by any means. There have been plenty of home invasions, slashers and 70s and 80s inspired horror films, and they stand out more and are better than this film. But for what it is going for, I think Prey at Night succeeds. It takes a lot from other movies, but gets away with it more here since its self-aware and blatantly a homage. As to be expected with this being a slasher movie, there are conveniences and implausibilities which do get a bit annoying. More frustrating are the dumb decisions made by the characters, and while they are almost a staple of slashers (and horror movies in general), the homage excuse can only go so far. There are some movies where the bad decisions are realistic, especially when it comes to characters who are in a state of panic, and so it makes sense. Prey at Night is not one of those cases however.
Despite the character establishment in the first act, the characters are a bit hollow and shallow. However, the acting does make up for it. Martin Henderson and Christina Hendricks play the parents, and the brother and sister are played by Lewis Pullman and Bailee Madison. These four are believable as a family and they do some good work in spite of the writing.
The direction from Johannes Roberts is great, it is definitely taking the old-fashioned slashers from the 70s and 80s as inspiration. This is especially seen with the cinematography; with the camera setups and slow zooms from the 70s, and the neon visuals from the 80s. The violence is very brutal and certainly does not hold back. At the same time, the movie manages to be genuinely tense. Even the killers are effectively intimidating here, more so here than the original movie. It definitely helped that they actually fitted in this kind of movie. One scene that I heard about long before I got to actually watching the film involves a pool, its probably the most well known part of the whole movie. Without saying too much about the context, the praise was well deserved. Finally, the soundtrack is great, very synth inspired and again the kind of thing you could imagine being in a John Carpenter movie.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is not without its faults. The character development is weak, the first act is underwhelming, and it falls into some of the typical failings of slasher movies. However, I found it very fun to watch. The cast are decent and somewhat elevate their roles, its directed well, strong on a technical front, and does well at being a homage to some classic slashers. If you’re looking for more of the same from 2008’s The Strangers, you won’t get it with Prey at Night. But if you like those classic 70s and 80s slashers, I think it is well worth a watch.