'The Strangers: Prey At Night' Review: An Effective Sequel That Conveys The Triviality Of Terror

The merit of most sequels is hard to evaluate without bringing up their predecessors — especially when it's The Strangers. The 2008 horror film written and directed by Bryan Bertino that had all the makings of a rudimentary home invasion thriller ended up being a statement on the weaponization of idle behavior among seemingly innocuous young adults. It remains brutal, unsettling, and remarkably relevant.

So director Johannes Roberts' The Strangers: Prey at Night has big shoes to fill. But that's okay, because it doesn't ever really seem concerned with besting the original film. Instead, it moves with the confidence of an entirely separate narrative, one that just so happens to not only pay homage to the 2008 film, but also successfully present its message to a 2018 audience.

As expected, though, some of the sophistication of the first film dissipates and is replaced with a quartet of bumbling characters that succumb to some of the most basic rules about horror movie victims. But like its predecessor, Prey at Night continues to interrogate millennial apathy. This time, however, it doesn't bother to try to present that from an idyllic family home in the suburbs. Rather, its masked villains — still breathing after massacring everyone in The Strangers — rip right through a trailer park with the certainty that no one would care about any victims there.

Opening appropriately with "Kids in America," the rebel anthem first immortalized by Kim Wilde in 1981, blaring through the villains' rickety old truck, Prey at Night immediately brings us to the intersection of madness and indifference. Then it introduces us to our new protagonists — Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and Mike (Martin Henderson) and their teenage kids Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and Luke (Lewis Pullman) — already in the midst of familial tension (much like how we met our original victims). Kinsey is angsty about being hauled off to boarding school for her degenerate behavior. Luke is annoyed that he has to tag along for the ride right in the middle of his baseball game. Meanwhile, the practical adults are just trying to do the best they can.

Along the way to Kinsey's new school, they decide to spend the night at their uncle Marvin's trailer park named Gatlin Lake Getaway (an eerie ode to Camp Crystal Lake from the Friday the 13th movies). They immediately discover that it is abandoned and not even their aunt and uncle are around to welcome them. No problem, Cindy just grabs the keys and they head to their reserved trailer completely unaware that they are about to meet Dollface, Pin-Up Girl, and Man in the Mask (the terrifying masked villains from the first film), who come knocking on their door.

Thus begins a long night of horror for the family, who seem destined to meet the same fate as Kristen and James from The Strangers, and not because they're like either of them at all. After all, Kristen and James were just minding their own business at home when terror came looking for them for literally no reason whatsoever other than the fact that they were home and available — which makes what happens to them that much more unnerving. On the other hand, our new protagonists, while they're not necessarily looking for trouble, don't seem to do much to avoid it as they run off into the woods in the middle of the night, roam around deserted mobile homes investigating each scary sound, peep around every dark hallway, and go back to Uncle Marvin's trailer just to make sure (spoiler alert!) that was in fact him and his wife's dead bodies rotting away in their trailer. Like many foolish horror movie characters, I began to root for the villains.

But as Prey at Night progresses, and the foursome begins to succumb to the wandering lunatics (Mike tries to save the day by clumsily retrieving Uncle Marvin's gun, a wink to James in The Strangers), they soon evolve to the situation. Armed with desperation and any weapon they can find lying around, young Kinsey and Luke gain their wits when they're forced to face off against the three masked villains on their own. That's when it comes down to the terrified and wounded versus the casually violent. Delirious with fear, these kids fight for their lives and each other all the while still struggling to understand why any of this is even happening to them. "Why are you doing this to us?" Kinsey asks Dollface, who responds, "Why not?" (This disappointing response is far less effective than the more menacing "Because you were home" answer Kristen received when she asked the same question in the first film).

Though its characters may fumble and its winks to the first film may not be as slick as I'd like them to be, Prey at Night does maintain the original commitment of presenting horror to the most mundane. It doesn't just disrupt an innocent setting of a quiet suburb. This time fear roams throughout a less opulent area routinely neglected even by law enforcement, even when it's fully occupied. It is that relentless seclusion, heightened by a haunting soundtrack of otherwise harmless songs (including Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now"), that blurs the line between danger and peace agitated by the aimlessness of the villains and the trivial rebellion of the young characters.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10