In “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and her husband Mike (Martin Henderson) pack up their teenage kids, Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and Luke (Lewis Pullman) and leave the suburbs for a remote, trailer park run by Cindy’s aunt and uncle. When the arrive late in the evening, the trailer park is mostly deserted, and Cindy’s relatives are nowhere to be found. Soon after settling in, the family encounters a trio of bloodthirsty strangers who are there for one purpose only: to kill. With no phones and no other means of access to the outside world, the family is forced to fight back, or die trying.
“The Strangers: Prey at Night” isn’t high art, but it’s not meant to be. It’s effective at setting tone and mood — using light, shadows, and mist to increase the tension. When we are first introduced to the strangers, their faces — later hidden by masks — are obscured by shadows just outside that pool of light. Their deliberate, slow, and theatrical motions signal their intentions while upbeat eighties songs blare from the car radio — a contrast that is repeated throughout the film, and it works. The tension is increased methodically, effectively, and the camera lingers just long enough on the strangers’ masks to increase the dread quotient through anticipation. In other words, the filmmakers do their job.
Those things being said, the movie overstays its welcome by about 15 minutes. The same level of dread and anticipation can’t be maintained, even during the relatively short 85 minute runtime. At some point, it becomes a little too repetitive and the killers (who otherwise are portrayed as normal human beings) are given unrealistic and unnatural abilities that too closely mimic supernatural slashers like Jason and Michael Myers, which lessens the effectiveness of the film overall.
Still, if you’re looking for a film that effectively delivers scares and suspense — and doesn’t skip on the gore — you could do worse.