“The Strangers: Prey at Night” had big shoes to fill after the release of the original in 2008. “The Strangers” is debatably a modern horror classic. Through its beautiful cinematography, the viewer is given just enough to see, yet not enough to see EVERYTHING. This disorientation left us darting to the corners of the screen as if we were the protagonists. The acting of the beautiful Liv Tyler as Kristen and Scott Speedman as James transported us into a world of mental, emotional pain due a declined marriage proposal and then again into an utter nightmare. The film left you on the edge of your seat, hoping beyond hope that our lovely protagonists would survive the night. The Strangers were everywhere and nowhere, tormenting our duo throughout the night by using the environment around them to keep Kristen and James feeling like nowhere was safe.
Then there is the sequel “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” a blatantly bad movie, that takes our beloved Strangers and transports them into a 1980’s slasher tribute. Director Johannes Roberts, who was not the director of the first film, set out on a mission to make it painstakingly clear that he was making an 80’s slasher homage.
As I tried to explain to my date, whom I saw this movie with. The movie really wasn’t meant to “make sense.” Johannes Roberts approach, filming, and narrative show many similarities to 80’s horror slashers. These movies were focused less on the mental torment of the victims and more on the direct terror of unstoppable monsters chasing their victims down. The plots rarely made much sense, and the shallowness of the protagonists left the villains open to massacring their victims without establishing a deep emotional connection. The cinematography is also interestingly similar to 80’s horror, focusing more on the villain’s perspective and less from the victims.
My date and I began to talk about the communication of horror movies across the genre, and how this movie is less of a plot-driven thriller as its predecessor. This is more of a celebration of 80’s slasher movies. The movie has a 37% on rotten tomatoes right now. The movie is not good, but instead of joining the crowd in trashing this terrible movie, I decided to provide for our dear readers some of the moments that the director threw in our faces to pay tribute to some of the classic horror movies. If you do choose to see this movie, maybe you’ll be able to enjoy it for what it is: a B rate movie using a popular property to pay tribute to the 80’s slasher.
Let’s start with the Man in the Mask. In Friday the 13th: Part II, a pre-hockey mask Jason Voorhees dawned a burlap sack over his head to protect the viewer from his hideous appearance. Although the choice for the burlap sack was chosen in the first movie, it is worth noting for further references later in the article that “The Man in the Mask” is a tribute to Jason.
Jason in the Friday the 13th movies had inhuman strength and the ability to take a consistent brutal beating and still march on. In “Strangers: Prey at Night” this was best depicted when The Man in the Mask is set on fire by an exploding car. His face burned (similar to Jason in Friday the 13: Part III), he continues to drive the burning vehicle after Kinsey (BaileeMadison), the main protagonist in the sequel. On its own, without the reference to the Friday the 13th movies, it is a pretty eye-roll worthy. But with the inclusion of the Jason reference, it makes the scene bearable.
The Man in the Mask wasn’t the only killer who resembled one of the horror greats. The “Dollface Stranger” (Emma Bellomy) is a call back to “Halloween” villain Michael Myers. Michael had a way of being everywhere and nowhere. Slowly stalking down his victims with a confident swagger. This was depicted by the Dollface’s constant slow walk towards her victims and even the usage of a butchers knife as her main weapon of choice.
Another scene that is noteworthy is the use of a sheet to hide the Dollface Killer drawing Kinsey closer until it was time for her to leap out. Although not exactly like a scene where Michael Myers uses a sheet to lure a victim to their grim end, in “Halloween” it had a…sexier connotation to the scene. The final example of a call back to the “Halloween” franchise is the way that Dollface meets her end. In the first Halloween movie, Mike Myers is shot at by his psychiatrist leaving him lying limp at the bottom of the window. I’ll leave it up to you to make the connection when you see the film but you’ll know it when you see it.
Finally, the most glaring and obnoxious ploy that Roberts used was the on the nose 80’s pop music that “The Strangers” use to intimidate their victims. It would seem that this was meant to be for the casual horror fan to hopefully catch on that this wasn’t JUST a horror movie. Avid horror fans like me were disappointed as well. Who wants the subtle cues to former classics beating you over the head the whole movie? It is comparable to reading a book and having the author walk you through his allegories. It ruins the fun of interpreting the book and that’s the feeling I got watching this movie.
If you decide to brave the night and see the new “The Strangers” film, remember that the plot isn’t really the reason for the season in this movie. “The Strangers: Prey at Night” is about the communication between horror films of the past. Maybe as a casual moviegoer, you can grab a couple of these references and potentially enjoy the movie for what it is. As always, the night is full of terror! So, keep it spooky!