The Strangers: Prey At Night

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.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 18th, 2023 at 12:59 pm and is filed under Reviews, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

12 Responses to “The Strangers: Prey At Night”

  1. I didn’t care for the first one (I think I felt it was trying so hard to be scary that it forgot to be entertaining) but I liked this one. This Roberts guy also directed the 47 METERS DOWN movies, a low-budget British monster movie called STORAGE 24, and a ghost thing called THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR that had some cool local color but was otherwise forgettable. Other than that last one, I’ve enjoyed all of the movies of his that I’ve seen. I think he’s a genre craftsman to watch. He can get some atmosphere going, some drama, some suspense, but he’s not afraid of making good old fashioned thrill rides the way a lot of his generation of horror directors seem to be. He seems ripe for getting swallowed up by the franchise machine but hopefully we’ll get a few more medium-budget bangers out of him beforehand.

  2. Oh, Roberts’ 47 Meters Down movies are a hoot too.

  3. Based on STRANGERS, MONSTER and THE DARK AND THE WICKED, Bertino doesn’t seem to do ‘fun’ (not a slam – I like them). A bit surprised his script for this is so action-packed.
    I enjoyed STORAGE 24, though I barely remember it. I’ll hunt down his other stuff. Especially this one, it sounds great.

  4. I’m a big fan of this one. I still haven’t seen the first one but I liked the family dynamic, I love Jim Steinman, and found it pretty scary and thrilling.

    Probably the most unrealistic part of the movie is none of the killers stop to ask the daughter if she can name three Ramones songs.

  5. I had a hoot with this. I’ve seen it a few times now. I saw Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City based soley on Roberts directing, and had a blast with that too. For what it’s worth, I call my sister sis.

  6. I have three sisters and I’m with Vern: “Sis” always seems phony to me, like the screenwriter can’t think of any other way to establish the brother-sister relationship.

  7. … my favorite cliche like this is when one character calls another “Little brother” or “Big brother”. Like, not only do we have to tell the audience these 2 are siblings, we also have to get them to specify their age order…

    As an older sibling, I can say that if I ever referred to my younger brother as “Little bro” when actually talking to him, it would likely end the conversation and maybe our relationship.

    Unless this was all in the context of a situation where one of us would then plunk a bullet into a metal container? That might change things.

  8. The German equivalent of “sis” would be “Schwesterchen”, I guess, but I don’t call my sis that either. I do call her “Frau” when she gets on my nerves though. (As in “Dammit, Frau, what the hell is it this time?”)

  9. I don’t find it phony as I have always used it with my sister. She even calls me little bro. I suppose everyone has different experiences.

  10. I have an aunt who is nicknamed “Sissy” and “Sis” so I guess it doesn’t strike me as that weird.

  11. My grandpa used to call my mom Sissy, which I imagine (never asked!) was a vestige of when she was little and quite possibly came from one of her siblings. Still, I do think it’s a different thing altogether for a brother to randomly call a sibling Sis. Then again, come to think of it, I tend to call my boys “bro,” which started out more as a goof (I think maybe kind of a goofy Ben Affleck faux Boston accent thing, where every other word is “bro,” and it can be a noun or a general-purpose exclamation, with its meaning defined by context and intonation). Part of it was also fueld by an ongoing competition with a work colleague to come up or remember stupid “Bro” names, like “Bro Montana” and “Le-Bro-en James” and stuff like that. But now the boys tend to call each other that some, too, and it has sort of evolved from an ironic thing to more of a normalized thing. Like, “Hey, Bro, do you wanna … X.” Moral of the story? There is none, but if I had to invent one, it would be that this shit can happen to any of us. Or at least some of us. Or at least me. So, maybe “sis” can happen to at least some of us (apparently so, from the comments). It’s real out there, Sis.

    At the same time, this got me off on a jag of thinking about expressions that people might say in a movie or show that would not ring true. My opening salvo was, “Hey, Sis, you wanna go grab a slice?” Another was, “I just caught some serious air” (afer some kind of skating or snowboarding move or wheelie-popping adventure or something). A final one was “I just caught a flick.” Maybe people actually say these things — I’m sure it’s happened. Okay, just got done catching some z’s, so, now off to catch some rays.

  12. Skani’s description of bro here, “and it can be a noun or a general-purpose exclamation, with its meaning defined by context and intonation” reminds me of when a friend who lived in Germany for many years was telling me about their usage of the word “bitte” to mean so many different things depending on situation and tone and I said, “So, it’s like how we use dude.” Which made her laugh and laugh.

    Also, when one of my nieces was little she couldn’t say her older brother or sister’s names, so they were Bubba for brother and Sissy for sister. But the nicknames were abandoned when she got old enough to be able to say their names. I’m not sure what that adds to the conversation, but it’s a thing. I think anything could be made to seem natural, like calling someone bro or sis, but it’s all in the execution. More often than not exposition is clunky, or at least obvious, but it’s impressive when they can pull it off well.

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