The Strangers: Prey at Night ★★★★

Once upon a time I was falling in love / Now I'm only falling apart / There's nothing I can do / A total eclipse of the heart

The Strangers: Prey at Night is one of the finest 21st century slashers. Exhilarating fun that rises above its flaws, and totally rises above its predecessor.

Kicked off with a cold open and bold title card (the typography in the film is way cooler than in the poster), things are definitely different from 2008's The Strangers. And it stays that way. Prey at Night completely distances itself from that film, and for the better. Johannes Roberts trades minimalism for retrofuturism, and figures in the shadows for silhouettes in the fog. He channels Carpenter, and the 80s in general. There's striking zooms, a synth score, throwback jams, band tees, neon palm trees, cars on fire, and even a split diopter shot. It all sounds over-the-top, because it can be, but I feel it comes from a place of love and admiration, which is rare in a time when nostalgia often feels capitalistic.

Prey at Night follows a familiar formula, but has some surprisingly original ideas, even beside its homages. And even when it's not being original, at least it's taking from good stuff. There's so many confident sequences. The first car scene is brilliant, the pool scene is fantastic in every way (and deserves the praise), and the entire finale is thrilling and satisfying. At 85 minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome, and that's with a first act consisting of only setup. Usually in that situation, I'm stuck painfully waiting for the plot to pick up, but here I wasn't bored. The main characters are a bit stereotypical, but the cast is great, and the menacing tone is immediately set as well as the slower pacing which I ultimately liked. Some cliche emotional beats are littered throughout, but they felt earned, and once again the cast come through, specifically Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman who both give genuinely moving performances. The family dynamic can easily fall apart if there's no chemistry between the actors, or with really bad writing, but luckily it works here. The tension is consistent (there's even really effective jumpscares), and the violence is sadistic — but never really gratuitous, which I appreciated seeing.

“Why not?”

When it comes to "dumb decisions", there's a few, as any slasher fan should expect at this point. A couple made me sigh, and some are clearly there just to move the plot forward, but mostly they made me go "Sadly, I can see somebody doing that" or even "I would probably do that". Not every character needs to be a genius, because not every person is a genius. Duh. But seriously, it wasn't that bad — plus it'll always be fun to yell "don't go in there", and then have the character proceed to go in there. It can all be a bit repetitive, but repetition works way better here than in the original. The only thing I truly disliked is the CGI blood, which I will always despise. Worth mentioning I watched the unrated version though, and apparently the only difference is that there's more blood.

The Strangers: Prey at Night is one of those films I'd have rented a dozen times at the video store as a kid (yes, my childhood was fucked), and I love the shit out of that feeling. It's a horror film that actually feels made for horror fans, rather than the biggest audience possible, which is usually the case with major studio horror. Sometimes I just wanna see some people troll a family and then kill them, although I like that I started rooting for the victims. Horror fans will usually forgive questionable dialogue and motivations if you just deliver the fun and suspense. The goods. Could've leaned into the camp more, and I'm sure it would've been better if there were less cliches, but for what it is, it's simply fantastic.

Well, I love to have fun

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