The Strangers was a very effective slasher/thriller when it was released in 2008. Without an over-reliance on cheap jump scares or various other tropes of the genre, the killers were terrifying and the victims were characters we cared for. With one simple phrase — “Because you were home,” — one of the best horror films of the 2000s delighted us all. As the years have passed, fans thought about what a sequel could look like — and now a decade later most of them will be leaving the theater this weekend asking, “Why did we want this?”
Strangers: Prey at Night begins with the masked trio taking out an old couple in a trailer the same way we saw in the original. Well, kind of. There is no drawn-out tension here, just straight killing. At least they left the dog alone. From there we get a title card and synths that are supposed to remind us of Stranger Things, and we are introduced to the family we will watch be tortured for the next 80 minutes. The mother and father (Christina Hendricks, who is better than this, and Martin Henderson) are packing up their son and daughter (Lewis Pulman and Bailee Madison) on a trip to take the latter off to boarding school. On the way, they stop off for the night at the trailer park from the beginning of the film, and chaos ensues.
That is about it for setup. The film does a really lazy job of making us care about these characters or anything that may happen to them. Forty-five minutes in you can’t be sure they are a family at all and not just four people who happened to get into the same van. There is no sense of family or camaraderie from any of them, just endless clichés. Why is this girl heading to boarding school? From what we are told, the parents have reached their wits end because she smokes and skips a couple classes. Apparently rather small things like that and her having an attitude are enough to ship her away.
By the time the invasions and killings start, people were already looking at their watches. Every bad decision a horror character can make is made, including some that defy logic and only take place to pad the running time. Director Johannes Roberts seems to have a good eye for mood and atmosphere in spots, but then he relies way too much on wide angles and zooms in all the wrong places. It is such a mixed bag that it outright distracts you.
Speaking of distractions — this may be one of the worst horror film scores of all time. Completely off-putting and used at some of the most inopportune times, it is not a subscriber to the less-is-more approach whatsoever. The musical cues give away anything that could possibly be considered eerie or unnerving.
That is the biggest problem with this Strangers film. There is nothing to grab on to. Nothing is tense, nothing is scary — nothing makes you feel anything other than thankful when the credits begin to roll. Everything that could possibly be a saving grace is telegraphed and predictable. It really is sad; fans had high hopes for this to tell us the next great chapter in this franchise. Now, like so many other pointless horror sequels, we won’t be able to watch the original again without remembering this. And that is a true shame.