The success of 2008’s The Strangers was largely down to its masked killers’ devil may care attitudes, the now staple exchange of ‘’Why are you doing this to us?’ ‘Because you were home.’’ implanted a sense of dread in many a household. Now 10 years on, director Johannes Roberts revives the now franchise with The Strangers: Prey at Night, an all-out stalking slasher spree that sets aside the nuanced house invasion concept of the first film for a homage to the great slasher films of the 70s and 80s.
Right from its retro title card to its horror icon inspired final showdown, Prey At Night makes it immediately clear that Roberts’ direction is moving away from the nuanced terror of its predecessor, and hurtling head first into more dynamic popcorn-friendly territory. After an initial introduction to the target family it’s not long before we’re immersed in a dimly lit, off-season trailer park joining them on a brief break before they send daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) off to boarding school for her troublesome behaviour.
Upon realising that the relatives they were meant to be staying with are nowhere to be seen, the family begin to question their location, but are abruptly interrupted by a knock at the door from a strange girl whose face is hidden in the shadows. Parents Cindy and Mike (Martin Henderson) soon become suspicious after she calls at the trailer multiple times, eventually breaking in and attacking Cindy and Kinsey whilst Mike and son Luke (Lewis Pullman) go out looking for the missing auntie and uncle. Prey at Night’s attitude is a no holds barred one from this point forward, barely stopping to catch its breath in a violent flurry of attacks, chases on foot and in car, shootings and stabbings. We see masked trio, Dollface, Man In The Mask and Pin-Up Girl return to their sadistic killing sprees in a series of one on one attacks with the family as their numbers dwindle in the most unfortunate but satisfying manners. Sure, logical thought and reality are often missing from the films central arc, but it’s so much bloody fun it is completely forgivable as we witness tributes to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Christine and even a hint of Friday the 13th.
Prey at Night’s iconography could be deemed as derivative by some, but paired with the already established lurking creep-factor of its murderous three and a reduction in standard horror score beats, every single scare lands to the most effective framing possible thanks to the work of cinematographer Ryan Samul. Establishing a sense of style and reference the previous film did not possess, his frequent use of slow zooms on the sparse and potential-filled landscape delivers some beautiful shots dense with mist and a dusky orange hue that appears particularly sinister.
These murky lit frames are lifted in one scene that takes place in the park’s outdoor pool, as blood and water beautifully combine, neon lights drench the screen dancing in Technicolor and Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ begins to play in scene. 80s pop is frequently used throughout the film in what can be established as either a theatrical genre oddity or a strangely depraved device that humanises the killers. Say what you will about its uses, but it sure is memorable.
The place where Prey At Night falls short however, is the unexplored relationship between Cindy and Kinsey. Slasher films usually set up their own rules that ignore character development all together, which is a perfectly acceptable way to deliver this sub-genre, but writers Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai spend so much time in the first act setting up a reconciliation or a grand reveal behind Kinsey’s misbehaviour that never gets delivered. Perhaps the lack of grand emotional gestures here is more realistic as their time alive is reduced, which is more than can be said for the final few scenes that delve so far into slasher iconography the films teeters into the supernatural realm for just about 20 seconds too long.
After 10 years, a Strangers sequel should not work, and to some extent it doesn’t because it defies the restrictions of its much-loved previous set-up. But with Johannes Robert’s fresh vision and aided by Samul’s striking camera work they takes the series to a new, more vibrant and entertaining place. It lacks the quieter tense moments of The Strangers, but makes up for it with its creativity, dynamic use of space and a truly terrifying premise in a love letter to horror cinema past.
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her lifesource is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here