The Strangers: Prey At Night (2018) (Review)

When it became pretty clear that Odeon's latest Scream Unseen screening was going to be The Strangers: Prey At Night, I visited the original for the first time. Having intended to see it for some time now, I wound up rather underwhelmed by what transpired to be a formulaic, unimaginative home invasion thriller, one that failed to extract the effective psychological elements that could have easily elevated it to higher ground. My spirits were a little dampened, I must admit. Is Prey At Night an improvement over the original, or similarly disappointing?

When a fractured family visit a relative's trailer park to spend time together before their daughter is sent to boarding school because of her rebellious behaviour, they find themselves prey to a group of violent, mask-wearing killers hellbent on bloodshed. With an all-new cast (Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman) and director (Johannes Roberts takes the reigns), The Strangers: Prey At Night hopes to scare a new generation, a decade after the first film received mixed reviews from audiences.

Both The Strangers and its new sequel manage to excel in one element above all else: atmosphere. Prey At Night is a genuinely taut and tense piece of filmmaking, benefiting from its lean runtime of just 85 minutes. It's endlessly eerie and frequently chilling, with some really effective imagery and strong sequences peppered throughout. When it pulls itself together, it produces some terrific scenes that really make use of the film's uneasy tone and well-crafted ambience. A neon-tinged poolside sequence springs to mind, brilliantly-crafted and endlessly thrilling, utilising a fantastic score to blistering effect. It's such a shame then that the great is damaged by the frustrating.

Prey At Night's biggest problems is its crop of characters, most of whom are incredibly annoying and downright unlikeable. It's a struggle to feel connected to any of them, or even will for their survival -- defined by staggering and idiotic behaviour that becomes increasingly damning. Whether it's to make her journey more pronounced, Madison's Kinsey is pretty detestable from the start in all honesty and it doesn't work in the film's favour. It dilutes consequence and stakes because, frankly, you don't really care what happens to them. Pullman's Luke is the only one remotely likeable in the whole thing.

Writers Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai also deliver some clunky dialogue along the way that comes across forced and unnatural; matched with a nonsensical, paper-thin narrative, style over substance has never felt apter. In fact, there's one crucial moment where the narrative is completely brushed off with a shrug of the shoulders; the writers can't even explain why all of this is happening. I want at least some explanation with my horror, thank you.

You might argue that plot and character mean little when it comes to horror, but Prey At Night really takes the biscuit. It appears assembled around the set pieces, rather than them developing organically and despite some gleeful violence, it doesn't prevent the crippling mediocrity it is otherwise defined by from settling in. As mentioned, a handful of set pieces prop it up, making it a watchable genre flick if this is the sort of film you naturally gravitate towards -- but they'll be little else for those of us who are after their horror a little more nuanced and with a little more depth.

Prey At Night really has its intense atmosphere to thank that prevents it from becoming a write-off. Roberts does a fine job working with the weak script, making the 85 minutes relatively enjoyable on the glibbest level. It contains some sharp callbacks and references to bygone horrors which some will appreciate but there's nothing particularly inventive on offer; some may be tempted to call it derivative, even. The Strangers: Prey At Night is certainly an improvement over the original but there's no escaping the feeling that it's a little bit unnecessary.


Summary: If serviceable horror is what you're after, The Strangers: Prey At Night will provide you with a gleeful violence bite; but those after something a little more nuanced will have trouble enjoying an otherwise empty, unneeded genre flick.