THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT is an enjoyable, well-put-together modern slasher movie. I saw and liked the first chapter of the THE STRANGERS motion picture saga, but haven’t seen it since and don’t remember many specifics. This is a horror sequel in the old tradition where it’s a new set of characters and you don’t have to remember anything about the other one, or have seen it. There’s no continuity or information that needs to be understood, it’s more like a loose remake, a do-over, or just another time where a family is terrorized by a man and two women in creepy masks who knock on their door at night and fuck with them with no apparent motive other than that they enjoy it.
It’s very straight forward. It sets up a family in the midst of some family drama, it moves them to an interesting, isolated setting, it puts them through a series of well-directed scares, scraps, and chases, and it’s over in 80 minutes.
The family are parents Mike (Martin Henderson, X) and Cindy (Christina Hendricks, BAD SANTA 2), their son Luke (Lewis Pullman, TOP GUN: MAVERICK) and their daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK). Kinsey has recently been fucking up, the parents have decided to send her to boarding school (which she’s very pouty about), and on the way to drop her off they’re all staying at Cindy’s uncle’s trailer park in Kalida, Ohio. I’m not familiar with a place like this – it seems to be furnished, rentable trailers that people stay in seasonally, and at this time of year they’re all vacant? I’ll take their word for it that that’s a thing and if not it’s okay because it makes for a good location anyway.
They arrive late at night, and there’s a note from her uncle telling which trailer to stay in. We have a pretty good idea that means her uncle and aunt were the couple killed in the opening, and that the perpetrators heard the answering machine message she left and decided to wait for them to show up. Man, these The Strangers are jerks. They don’t have names within the movie but the credits call them Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei, “Devil” in HAUNT and “Deer Skull” in WRONG TURN), Dollface (Emma Bellomy, KILLER BABES AND THE FRIGHTENING FILM FIASCO) and Pin-Up Girl (Lea Enslin, THE NIGHT HOUSE). Those are all different actors than in the first one, but presumably the same characters.
So we learn about the various family tensions, we arrive late at night to the uninhabited trailer park in the middle of nowhere (but somebody’s takeout leftovers are in the fridge?) and then enjoy the creepy-as-fuck experience (repeated from the first one) of a young woman, her face covered in shadow, knocking on the door and asking if Tamara is home.
Weird, but they don’t think much of it. Kinsey is mad at everybody and annoyed that Dad is trying to be Cool Dad with her while she’s trying to be off in her own world with headphones on, so she storms out into the night, and Mom sends a reluctant Luke to talk to her.
I like the sibling relationship in this movie (other than him calling her “sis,” which always feels phony to me). They’re pretty different in some ways – symbolized by him playing baseball and her wearing a Ramones shirt and Docs – but they’re family, they share the same experiences, some of the same annoyances with their parents. They argue about some stuff but ultimately they’re there for each other in this time that is already trying before the stabbing begins.
I take that back – the stabbing is already underway, as they discover when they notice a trailer with its door wide open, wander inside, first find some booze (cool) and then the mutilated corpses of their great aunt and uncle (uncool). They run to their parents and the family splits up – Mom staying with Kinsey while Luke shows Dad what they found – and it’s pretty much chasing and battling (with some hiding) until the credits roll. It’s upsetting, because somebody has to die for this to be a horror movie, and it’s thrilling, because it’s lots of well executed slasher action done with flair and in interesting settings.
It does a good job of portraying fear – getting out of breath, having trouble speaking, the way the sound gets muffled and then cuts out after finding a loved one dead and going into shock.
The fragility of the trailer homes comes in handy in a few scenes – doors and walls can be bashed through by an attacker, or to make an escape, and it makes more sense than in movies where that happens in structures you’d expect to be sturdier and more durable.
A bit I remember liking in the first one is that somebody gets a gun to protect themselves, like people always say they should do in horror movies, but then accidentally shoots the wrong person, like people do in real life. In this one guns do help, but Luke has trouble pulling the trigger, being a normal person who doesn’t want to kill somebody.
The presence of gun adds suspense to one of the best scenes. Kinsey has been slashed, and they’ve run away and hidden inside a trailer. It’s a good brother-sister moment where he talks about childhood memories to distract her, and she laughs through tears of pain finishing the story. But before that, so that he can tend to her wounds, he has to set the gun down, which we see in close up. So the whole scene we’re waiting for someone to have snuck in and taken the gun without him noticing. Instead there’s a great jump scare where a pick up truck rams right through the side of the trailer.
So the gun thing is misdirection, but also he loses it, because he has to run off without it.
That’s not the only great vehicle crash in this. There’s also the one that’s shot through the windshield as something is thrown at it, causing Dad to swerve, crash into a trailer and get impaled by a 2 x 4. Then the masked guy opens the passenger door and sits in the car with him for a while, just letting him be scared and beg for mercy, before taking out an ice pick. That gives you an idea of how sadistic this mask guy is. He likes to play with people. He’s the one driving the pickup and you can always hear his stereo playing. You know, he has his music he likes to listen to while terrorizing. Probly made a playlist for it.
And there are more crashes! Kinsey is trying to escape in a police cruiser (long story, but you can pretty much guess it) and the pickup suddenly hits the back of it very hard, really crushing it, like a demolition derby. And then he rams it repeatedly until the two smashed-up vehicles get tangled and stuck together.
Maybe the coolest gag in the whole movie is that she notices a gas leak, uses her (previously established in smoking scenes) lighter to ignite it – as you know, in movies lighters can stay lit when you throw them – and causes a beautiful, fiery explosion. But then as she’s limping away from it, looking totally badass even while crying, we see the truck back up, turn around, and start driving after her, still in flames. And whatever combination of practical pyrotechnics and digital augmentation they used, it looks really good. Beautiful stuff.
There’s another part that seems like The Famous Scene from THE STRANGER PREY AT NIGHT, because I’d heard of it before: Luke ends up in a knife vs. ax fight in and around a swimming pool, with light-up palm tree decorations creating multi-colored lighting, and there’s a sound system set up there, playing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” its dramatic builds complimenting the violence, or sometimes being muffled when the camera follows one or both characters underwater. This is the thing about slasher movies – they don’t have to be too original, or too complicated, they just have to do the same thing well and come up with ways to do it that you haven’t quite seen before. This scene, and the movie as a whole, are good examples of that.
I can’t really say whether this is better than the original or not, because my memories of that one have faded, and I’m a different person now anyway. This time I just laughed when it said “BASED ON TRUE EVENTS” at the beginning, but judging from my review I took offense the first time. I said it was calling me an idiot to my face. Calm down, younger me.
Original STRANGERS writer/director Bryan Bertino returns just as writer, along with Ben Ketai (30 DAYS OF NIGHT: DARK DAYS), but this time the director is Johannes Roberts. He’s been working since 2001 but I’ve only seen his most recent, RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY. I enjoyed that one, and there’s a similarly appealing visual style here. For this one the cinematographer was Ryan Samul, who shot the Jim Mickle joints MULBERRY STREET, STAKE LAND, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, COLD IN JULY and Hap and Leonard season 1, plus the aforementioned Halloween movie HAUNT. All good stuff.
I think I’d recommend RACCOON CITY more if you’re looking for more monsters and happenings, but PREY AT NIGHT flows better. It’s just so straight forward and to the point. For those who can appreciate a solid straight away slasher, this should do the trick.
There’s a pretty interesting/creepy extra on the DVD/blu-ray of this – a music video for a “scary” cover of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.” It’s shot in the point of view of the killers and is kind of like a prequel to the movie, showing a little bit of them squatting somewhere, running from cops, putting on their costumes and stalking somebody.
Since time flies in my middle age I was thinking of this as a recent movie I needed to catch up on, but of course it’s five whole years old. And The Strangers are about to return: somehow, for some reason, Renny Harlin (THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE) has filmed a whole trilogy of new ones, but without the involvement of the people who made the first two. THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1 is due next year, and is set in Oregon, but filmed in Bratislava, Slovakia. I’ll try to see it in less than five years, but we’ll see what happens.