The Strangers: Prey at Night, for all its reliance on genre clichés, is occasionally enjoyable in its tribute to the 80s.
We’ve been treated to some brilliantly-subversive horror over the last few years, with The Witch, Get Out, and the recent A Quiet Place being particular highlights. The Strangers: Prey at Night is not that calibre of chiller. Low-budget and low-risk, it’s the sequel to 2008’s The Strangers that surprisingly didn’t come sooner considering the first film’s financial success. The original split critics, yet gained a close following amongst horror fanatics for its effective atmosphere and creepy character design. Prey at Night follows many of the same beats, but ditches the sustained approach to building tension with a frenetic style of pacing. Though it may not be as eerie as its predecessor, it’s certainly more fun and irreverent.
Prey at Night sees the masked trio of killers back for some more killing, this time the setting being an isolated trailer park visited by a fresh group of unsuspecting victims. It’s a fitting backdrop, the air filled with a heavy mist that makes for some impressive cinematography. There’s an unexpected visual flair to the piece, DP Ryan Samul utilising deep focus with interesting results, as well as deliberately-excessive zooms and panning shots that make up only a fraction of Prey at Night‘s pastiche of 1980s slasher movies. If The Strangers was an homage to the 70s home invasion subgenre driven by suspense, the likes of The Last House on the Left and When a Stranger Calls, then Prey at Night has skipped forward a decade to the gory playfulness of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
It’s a progression that may put fans of the first movie off, but gratitude to the 80s is what makes this sequel vastly more entertaining – especially in its inclusion of that decade’s bombastic music. We hear Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ put to amusing use in one of the trailers, though it is strangely absent in the finished film. Nonetheless, there remains a fair amount of nostalgic tunes to enjoy. Prey at Night opens with Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America’, then uses the British singer’s ‘Cambodia’ in a later murder scene. The finest set-piece sees Luke (Lewis Pullman) struggle with one of the killers in a swimming pool, set to the sound of Bonnie Tyler’s power ballad ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. That the soundtrack is totally incongruous with the bloody events taking place on-screen doesn’t really matter, it works.
Of course, there are abundant flaws. The characters aren’t characters but archetypes, hollow beings supplied with little personality or charisma. There is no plot. With its pastiche there comes cliché after cliché, the film attempting nothing to turn these conventions on their head or give them new life. Prey at Night doesn’t care about originality, even the 80s gimmick being a recent trend in the genre – see The Guest and It Follows, for instance. What makes this follow-up just about worth it is that it’s only 85 minutes long, doesn’t rely too heavily on jump scares, and has great songs. In other words, maybe wait until it inevitably lands on Netflix in a few months time.
The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018), directed by Johannes Roberts, is distributed in the UK by Vertigo Releasing Ltd, certificate 15.