Even with the differences in sub-genre and style, Johannes Roberts’ newest film, The Strangers: Prey at Night, is a mostly worthy successor to Bryan Bertino’s 2008 The Strangers. With the setting and premise of the original home invasion film being swapped out for something more in line with a 70’s/80’s slasher flick and some other deliberate filmmaking choices, Prey at Night feels like an homage to the work of legends like John Carpenter in addition to a continuation of its predecessor. Roberts’ made some seriously bold decisions with this sequel, and the majority of them pay off gloriously. It may not have been worth the decade-long wait, but it was certainly close.
Despite their differences, both Strangers films would still feel fairly connected even without the returning villains. The overwhelmingly powerful, constant unease and tension that made The Strangers the scariest horror film of all time is front and center in Prey at Night as well. The long stretches of silence, mostly silent antagonists, wide and shaky camera shots, unaware scares (those moments where you’re freaking out because you see something coming that the protagonist doesn’t) and a palpable mixture of fear and confusion felt by watching the victims in Prey at Night made me almost as uncomfortable as they did ten years ago. Plus, there’s just something totally unsettling in the way the series’ masked murderers move about that very few films have been able to match.
Also, the bare bones of Prey at Night’s story match that of the original: A small group of people are trapped in an isolated locale and stalked by three masked assailants for no reason other than the sadistic glee they feel by making their victims suffer both physically and psychologically. The fear of the unknown and lack of any discernible motive are major tools used to up the creep factor to great effect in both films.
Speaking of the victims, man did they surprise me. There were a couple of times I just knew something was about to happen (or not happen) to one of them, and then I turned out to be completely wrong. The Strangers: Prey at Night may be a love letter to films that are decades old, but that didn’t stop it from using some new tricks to keep me on my toes.
Something else that caught me off guard and added to the retro vibe was the soundtrack. Tunes from Kim Wilde, Air Supply, and Bonnie Tyler blast through some of Prey at Night’s best scenes. For example, there’s a sequence where “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is playing that has a strong chance of standing among my top moments from any film this year.
However, Prey at Night isn’t perfect. There are a couple of dumb decisions made by the heroes, and I’m somewhat torn on the final scene. The ending made me feel like Roberts’ priority was to honor those that inspired him instead of serving the story he was supposed to be telling. It’s not terrible, but it didn’t really fit with the rest of the movie and is fairly disappointing when compared to the original’s insanely haunting finale.
Even with my minor complaints, The Strangers: Prey at Night is still a great horror film. Roberts’ choice to blend the style of scares from Bertino’s original with the setting and vibe of classic slashers was a good move. Prey at Night could have just been more of the same, but instead turned out to be something unique that feels both retro and fresh. If you’re a fan of horror flicks, I highly recommend acquainting yourself with these strangers.