The Strangers: Prey at Night

Just re-re-watched this one, and, wow, holy everything, Batman, this is STILL my favorite horror movie of the year. By miles. Really? It’s the best slasher I can think of since . . . Happy Death Day, yeah. Which was far and away the best since . . . You’re Next, maybe? And before that it’d be The Cabin in the Woods

What it gets so, so right:

  • actually IMPORTANT people die
  • the final girl isn’t bookish and morally bulletproof. she’s just a kid, being a kid
  • after the initial blood sacrifice (all slashers open like this, to get the ritual started), the crew gets to the Bad Place and things ratchet way, way up, never come down
  • there’s no convoluted backstory to feel out. so much horror feels compelled to explore the nature of evil or trace out the history of this bad killer or whatever, but, man, the scary part of horror, it’s not in explanations, it’s in the lack of explanations. not knowing the rules, the system, the history, being lost in the dark with no sense even of where the walls might be, THAT’S scary
  • an open cycle of justice. which is rare for a slasher. usually. the victims are, in some sense, bringing it on themselves—going to the lake they know not to go to, all that. not this time. this time it’s random and arbitrary. just bad luck. the worst luck, and with lasting consequences
  • good jumpscares, excellent gore, nice set-piece killings, perfect music, and it all happens over just an hour or two. and, talking set-pieces: I know that the pool-scene in Let the Right One In, is supposed to be my favorite pool-scene in all of horrordom, but not anymore. there’s no Bonnie Tyler playing for that one
  • a killer/slasher who, by dint of being plural, Billy and Stu, is that much more unkillable
  • authorities who can’t help. isolation is a key ingredient for the slasher
  • decisions that don’t feel ‘for the story,’ but in the moment, and completely rational, knowing what they (the crew/family) know. people always say the characters in horror are stupid. they don’t have to be, though. it’s on the writer to rig a realistic situation up where, as Sidney puts it (and then exemplifies), the girl going up the stairs instead of out the front door makes perfect sense
  • a few of those golden moments we crave in a slasher, where we want to call out to the characters on screen, warn them away from this, that, whatever bad’s waiting for them. which is to say: Prey at Night uses dramatic irony—what WE know that the characters don’t—to full effect
  • it deals with cell phones in a hilariously direct way (instead of staging some loss of signal or water accident, etc)
  • and, did I mention the music enough? amazing cool wonderful perfect. like, The Wrestler good, I mean.

And, I say all this having not been much interested in the first installment of this maybe-franchise. When I saw this back forever ago, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to get to the theater—the original The Strangers had seemed mean to me—I was just there because I was on MoviePass then, and had a couple hours to kill, and this was the only horror on the marquee. I figured people’d be asking me about it, so I might as well file it in the ‘watched’ category. But then, man, then it was so, so, so good. As for what distinguishes it from the first . . . not sure. I don’t recall the original very well. I do remember I wasn’t that interested in the people being terrorized, though, that they seemed a little off-the-shelf, kind of ripped straight from Ils.


Not this time. This time, I’m very invested in this family, and, there’s mean-ness, sure, maybe even as much as in the original, but it’s really just pre-justification for some of the righteous getting-back the final girl finally enacts. It’s very Kristy, in that regard. And it’s never, even for half an instant, easy. 

Then? At the end, it closes with a . . . I guess I’d call it a suggestive, complicated response to a knocking door—a response by the final girl. It’s very The Last Girl Standing, which is brutal and painful to watch, but maybe the best version I’ve seen of what it must be like to live with . . . not just slasher-specific trauma, but trauma in general.

And I see on YouTube and around that there’s different explanations for the ending. I’ve yet to click on any of them, had no idea this ending needed explaining. Maybe I’ll check one of them out in the unsweet by and by—maybe there’s some clue I missed about who’s doing that knocking, or maybe this ending we see is, as in the British The Descent (I think it was the British one), all in the survivor’s head, a fantasy she engages so as to dissociate to a happier place, when there’s no real chance of survival. Or . . . hm: I guess the first time this family sees the horror is when that one eventual intruder knocks on the door of their trailer, so this could be the whole cycle starting over, I suppose. Which I’m game for. Please.

Anyway, so glad to own this one on blu-ray. Now I can watch it whenever I want. It’s everything good about the slasher. Now I just want the rest of the world to see it, and understand. Here’s the trailer:

now, get yourself to a . . . where- and however you can watch this
Author: SGJ