Directed by: Johannes Roberts
Premise: A sequel to the 2008 movie. A family spends the night in a secluded trailer park. They are attacked by a trio of masked psychopaths and must fight to survive.
What Works: The Strangers: Prey at Night repeats the basic premise of the original movie but improves on it in virtually every way. Admittedly, the 2008 version wasn’t that good. It had some creepy moments but the original Strangers movie was more or less conventionally made and had an unpleasant tone. The sequel improves upon the original on both fronts. Prey at Night is made with great style. The film is well shot with dark imagery that is nevertheless coherent and there are some exceptional uses of split or deep focus shots in which the background and the foreground are in focus. Scenes are staged well with the killers emerging from the background and then striking in ways that are consistently surprising. The film also uses sound very well. The Strangers sequel incorporates ironic song choices and an electronic score by Adrian Johnston that are especially creepy. The filmmaking craft of Prey at Night creates a vivid atmosphere of dread that carries through the entire movie. The film is also more satisfying than its 2008 progenitor as a piece of entertainment. It’s just as brutal but Prey at Night is frighteningly enjoyable rather than just mean spirited because the filmmakers have a better sense of showmanship and storytelling. The family members are adequately characterized in the opening of the movie so that they are people whose fates we care about and the movie unfolds with increasing tension. The last third of Prey at Night is comparable to the original Terminator in the way it keeps surprising the viewer.
What Doesn’t: Like the original The Strangers, there’s not much to Prey at Night beyond its surface. The first film was about a couple terrorized by killers and this is more of the same. The redundancy is excusable because everything is done better. However, the sequel retains the superficiality of its predecessor. Those hoping for greater complexity or even just a motive won’t find it here. That may be the point. As in the first film, a victim asks one of the killers why they are doing this and she responds dispassionately. That may be the point; the violence is random and therefore meaningless. But as a matter of drama and entertainment, that’s not a very satisfying answer and as a sequel the film skips an opportunity to explore the meaning of its premise. The Strangers sequel has a retro feel with its masked killers and use of 1980s pop songs but the nostalgic appeal of the movie becomes a little too blatant in the climax. The end of the movie rips off the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a way that goes beyond homage.
Bottom Line: The Strangers: Prey at Night is the rare sequel that outshines its predecessor. It’s almost a remake and lacks depth but Prey at Night is satisfyingly scary and improves the material in every way.
Episode: #690 (March 18, 2018)