The first Strangers film packed a hell of a punch on its release: lean and mean with murderers whose only motive was opportunity. The fact that it’s taken ten years for a sequel to materialise is surprising and possibly a cause for concern, given that it has to better its imitators and the brilliant subgenre-twisting of You’re Next.
After a prologue that reminds us of the killers’ chilling MO, The Strangers: Prey At Night introduces us to tonight’s victims, a fracturing family staying at an empty holiday trailer park while on their way to deposit rebellious daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) at boarding school. Much of the first half is slow and disappointingly drab, with a solid cast (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson as the parents) struggling to bring life to the scene-setting. However, director Johannes Roberts is clearly having a lot of fun creating the sequel’s distinct atmosphere, as he and cinematographer Ryan Samul fill the wooded getaway with night-time mist and endless trailers that could offer sanctuary or danger.
Things do pick up once the Strangers decide that it’s time to stop creeping and start stabbing, but Roberts seems torn between paying homage to the stillness of the original and pursuing the throwback thrills of a slasher movie, and it’s clear that’s exactly what Prey At Night is. However, there simply aren’t enough characters to follow the body count rules established in Scream 2, resulting in an awful lot of predictable jump scares early on.
But hold on, because our patience is greatly rewarded once we head into the final act. At this point, Roberts decides to just have fun with it and take the “John Carpenter via Adam Wingard” approach that was clearly what he was after from the first Eighties pop tune (of many). A sequence in a swimming pool is tremendous fun and it sets the tone for a delightfully ludicrous finale that packs in horror references left and right. The pacing is a problem, it doesn’t have the raw fear of its predecessor and some of the bigger choices may alienate that film’s fans, but The Strangers: Prey At Night ends up being a satisfying slasher sequel that works best when it cuts loose.