Director: Johannes Roberts
Starring: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman
‘Why are you doing this?’ cries one character to their assailant in The Strangers: Prey At Night. ‘Why not?’ comes the reply. You can imagine the same conversation playing out if you quizzed director Johannes Roberts and writer Bryan Bertino as to why they’d bothered with this ultra formulaic horror sequel. While the original Strangers, released back in 2008 and also written and directed by Bertino, offered up a genuinely terrifying spin on its familiar home invasion story, Prey At Night lacks its brutal panache.
The lambs to the slaughter here are a family of four – mum (Christina Hendricks), dad (Martin Henderson), and their two teenage kids, angsty rebel Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and sporty Luke (Lewis ‘Son of Bill’ Pullman). A family trip to a (conveniently deserted and permanently mist-shrouded) campground goes awry when a strange woman knocks on the door of the trailer, and before long they find themselves being stalked by a trio of masked killers.
While the original was patient enough to slowly and mercilessly crank up the dread to a fever pitch, Prey suffers from uneven pacing. There’s a rather slow build-up that is clearly intended to help audiences care about the family before putting them through the meat grinder, but its hard to get invested when the characters are such uninteresting archetypes.
And when, abruptly, Prey shifts into high gear and bodies start hitting the floor, its all-action second half is as unsatisfying as the first. Unwilling to waste time slowly escalating the tension, it opts instead for easy jump scares, and the deaths, when they come, are oddly anticlimactic. Prey is gruesome and misanthropic, but only very rarely is it actually scary.
To give credit where credit is due to Prey and Roberts (who directed last year’s sleeper hit thriller 47 Metres Down), its a competently staged film – well-filmed and reasonably well-acted. A cheapo sequel this is not, and one scene, set in an outdoor swimming pool, is genuinely terrific. But too often Prey is content to tick all the basic boxes and do little more. Even its 80s aesthetic, with its soundtrack littered with power ballads and its nods to classic slasher films, seems like little more than an attempt to cash in on the recent trend for nostalgia-fuelled horror, and for a movie set definitively in the modern day, it feels bizarrely out of place.
There are far worse films out there than Prey but the overwhelming feeling while watching it is not fear but dejà vu. Everything it does has been done elsewhere and usually done better, not least by its far-superior predecessor. It’s throwaway fare, destined to be forgotten by audiences almost before they’ve left the cinema. In the end what’s most frightening about Prey at Night is its utter lack of ambition.