The Strangers: Prey at Night Review
Family road trips can be the worst, am I right? You’re in a confined space for a long amount of time with the people who know you, and can irritate you, like nobody else. There’s already nowhere to escape to because you’re in unfamiliar territory but add into that people who want to kill you and you have more things to worry about than mum’s terrible choice in radio stations. Such is the fate of the family here who stay the night at an off-season lakeside trailer park on the way to taking teen tearaway Kinsey (Bailee Madison) to her new school. They soon realise that they are not alone, and the people hunting them do so without compassion or motive, but with plenty of killer instinct.
2008’s The Strangers was a landmark in the sub-genre of home invasion horror. It was raw and visceral in an almost docudrama way displaying violence and cruelty without compassion or reason and had an ending that was low-key yet leaves a shiver whenever you think on it. The Strangers: Prey at Night doesn’t quite have that same quality even with the same approach of the horror and chaos of being attacked without knowing the reason why. If anything, it seems to opt a more traditional slasher movie route. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you may find yourself being reminded of the likes of the Friday the 13th movies and especially The Texas Chain Saw Massacre watching this and that can be fun in an 80s throwback kind of way, especially with its soundtrack, something that we have been seeing in horror since about 2010 and in no way was started by Stranger Things like some people seem to think.
The problem, along with the fact that we miss out on that feeling of realism, is that sometimes that fun can go over the line beyond what the suspension of disbelief allows. The scariest horror films are the ones where even if the characters make the best, most sensible decisions things still go wrong, because when a character acts stupid for no better reason than because the movie requires it that gets frustrating very quickly and annoying to the point where it’s difficult to care what happens to them. It’s also distracting when the seemingly normal killers can do just about anything beyond human capability for the sake of a few cheap scares.
Seriously, in this absurdly large trailer park these killers somehow know which one the teen daughter is going to hide in so that they can lay a creepy jack-in-the-box based trap? Really? This location works against the house in the first film. That worked because it could have been on your street, it could have even been your own home, which added that extra layer of unease but this out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere resort doesn't work as well.
That said for all its falling just short of being as effective as the first film, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had. Little callbacks to the first film in the group’s methods feel right, evoking a sense of routine to their killing habits, and the moments when the action slows down, because the killers can afford to take their time, are very uncomfortable. The real gem of the film though is one sequence based around a pool that combines great sound and visuals and just may leave you unable to listen to a certain 1980s ballad the same way again.
Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson bring a nice down to Earth couple vibe to their performances which feel very natural and believable. Bailee Madison also acts as a great central role in the film, a punk rock final girl if you will and Lewis Pullman as brother Luke acts as a balancing point between his parents and his more rebellious sister. You get this family and what they’re about very easily without things being spelt out in an obvious way, and that really is the best route to take. It’s not going to stalk your mind in the dark and lonely hours of the night, but The Strangers: Prey at Night is a fun thrill ride of a horror movie that will entertain.