Believe it or not, some movies don’t need sequels. 2008’s The Strangers, a movie I quite like about a trio of masked individuals systematically scaring and ultimately trying to murder a random family, is one of those movies. It took a decade to get a sequel made, and now that we have one, the only question I have is this: why? Is there any reason to do another one of these? Besides money, of course. Creatively, the sequel, which has been titled Prey at Night, is bankrupt. It does nothing of interest for most of its running time and then becomes too silly to take seriously for the rest of it.
It follows a few members of a family who pack up their bags to visit a trailer park at a lake, which after a certain time of year is largely deserted. The teenage daughter (Bailee Madison) has gotten into a lot of trouble and is being sent to a boarding school in a couple of days; this trip is to get her settled at the school and will wind up acting as the last time they’re all together, at least for a while. The older child, the son (Lewis Pullman), is off to college soon, and the parents (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) are set to enjoy the house to themselves.
Then three masked individuals begin stalking and trying to kill them. That’s the rest of the movie, which accounts for something like an hour of screen time. There’s a little bit of setup that allows us to know the dynamic of the family—the daughter is “troubled” is about all we learn—and then the rest is stalk-scare-stab-slash-slaughter.
That worked pretty well in the first film, which had several successful startle moments and built a solid atmosphere filled with suspense. The masked strangers could pop up out of nowhere, they’re clearly more prepared than the victims, and while we can recognize that a lot of it is done just for the sake of the audience, it’s still effective. In Prey at Night, even with a decade of time off, it feels generic and uninteresting. These strangers haven’t learned anything new, the family aren’t interesting enough to really care about, and the whole thing feels tired.
Some movies don’t need sequels.
This isn’t even the sequel that was teased at the end of the first film and that was planned for a while before being dropped. It feels like a generic slasher with the masked people dropped in as the villains instead of a Voorhees clone or what have you. Use the villains and the title and you get a theatrical release; otherwise, a movie like this has no business being put into multiplexes. Not that that often stops horror movies, I guess. They can make money regardless of quality.
There are several head-scratching moments within the film, some character decisions are questionable at best, the strangers’ antics get repetitive even with such a short running time, and the sense of atmosphere which is so key to making their shtick work simply isn’t there. It’ll make you jump a few times, but as I’ve said before and I’ll say again: anything can work as a jump startle with the proper camera movement and musical cue. They’re not scary; they’re startling. Only the former is worthwhile.
If The Strangers: Prey at Night has a strength, it’s in the acting. Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson are fine as the parents, but it’s Lewis Pullman and Bailee Madison, particularly the latter, who really shine. Madison gets to run the whole emotional gamut, while Pullman is solid in his own right. Also of note: the soundtrack is solid.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is the type of movie that has no reason to exist except in hopes of capitalizing on a decade-old movie with the intention of making a few dollars. It’s a generic-as-can-be movie that winds up just being a worse version of its predecessor—until it gets too silly near its conclusion to take seriously. It’s not scary because it has weak characters and lacks a strong sense of atmosphere. The acting isn’t bad, but pretty much everything else about it is. It’s a good thing it’s barely over 80 minutes long.
Conclusion: The Strangers: Prey at Night is a generic horror movie that is trying to capitalize on whatever goodwill remains from its predecessor.
Recommendation: Watch The Strangers; skip its sequel.