The Strangers: Prey at Night follows a family of four who are terrorized by masked psychopaths. A sequel to the 2008 hit The Strangers, this film features a new set of characters who face the wrath of a murderous trio.
Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson star as Cindy and Mike, a young couple who are transporting their daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) to a boarding school. Luke (Lewis Pullman), Kinsey’s more responsible older brother, begrudgingly rides along. During the road trip, the family of four take a detour to stay with relatives at a nearly-abandoned trailer park.
During an evening of arguments and passive aggressive behavior amongst the quartet, a stranger’s knock on the door with a seemingly-innocuous question sets the stage for the coming carnage. Soon, that stranger and her friends are taunting and threatening the family.
Like in the original film, the strangers spend most of the time wearing masks leading the audience and the main characters to wonder who these masked monsters are. That set-up pits the known family of four against a mysterious trio.
Unfortunately, even members of the family of four aren’t given a chance to develop their characters. Cindy and Mike are conflicted parents, wondering how they should treat their rebellious daughter while Luke is their straight-laced child. Luke and Kinsey share a nice connection (a conversation between them works nicely here) but then that relationship is quickly overshadowed when the strangers start attacking.
Director Johannes Roberts does make some unique decisions in the film though. Much of the plot feels like an old-school ’80s horror film and Roberts embraces that with a great soundtrack that celebrates some of the decade’s hits.
One of the feature’s best sequences involves a fight set to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. The poolside fight is lit up with brightly-colored fake palm trees. The action, the location and the spot-on music perfectly capture the scene and make it stand out all the more in a film that oftentimes settles for simple scares.
Many of the scares occur because the main characters aren’t willing to face off directly against the strangers. When given the chance to fight back, many of the main characters often choose to make dumb decisions that come back to haunt them. Even after the strangers have proven how blood-thirsty they are, the main characters sometimes choose to walk away even when they have the ability to strike back. These decisions lead them into greater peril.
As for the scares, there are a few jump scares here and several scenes of building tension but those moments are undercut when the main characters continually make laughably naive decisions.
The film too often chooses to copy scary movies of the past without adding much to the genre. If the filmmakers had chosen to take greater risks, the film could’ve fully embraced slasher movies of the past while adding a few neat twists to the story. Instead, the screenplay by Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai complacently borrows from the slasher genre without giving this entry in the genre a unique footprint.
There are moments here where the feature hints that it could be more but it never really shows that it’s trying to.
Review by: John Hanlon