Face-Off: The Strangers vs. The Strangers: Prey at Night

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

In 2008, director Bryan Bertino introduced a trio of home invading killers in his feature directorial debut THE STRANGERS. The film was a box office hit and left the door wide open for a sequel, so horror fans fully intended to see those thrill killing strangers return to the screen. Due to some behind the scenes issues, it took them ten years to do so, even though Bertino had a sequel script ready within a year of THE STRANGERS’ release. The follow-up, THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT is finally in theatres right now… but was it worth the wait, and how does it match up to its predecessor? Let’s see.
The murderous strangers of the title pick their victims at random, and the unlucky pair who answer a knock at their door at 4am in this film are James and his girlfriend (well, now sort of his ex-girlfriend) Kristen. While we don’t learn a whole lot about who these two are, we do get to see a lot of how they act toward each other, and it appears that they are good, caring people. They may be breaking up, but there’s no animosity. James still wants to take care of Kristen, and she still wants to make sure he’s okay. Basically, the viewer is made to care for them because they care for each other.
PREY AT NIGHT centers on a family – parents Mike and Cindy and their teenage children Luke and Kinsey. The parents care deeply about their kids, although Mike seems to be baffled by their troubles. Luke is an easy-going kid, Kinsey is troubled and rebellious. Cindy can relate to her daughter’s behavior, but can’t tolerate it any longer. This isn’t the most well written bunch, but you get an idea of who they are before the trouble hits. None of them are so unlikeable you want them to be killed, but you might not care if they are. At least not until the pool scene.
James and Kristen are very sad people when we first meet them. Crying, being moody in the bathtub, eating comfort food ice cream straight out of the container sad. Flashbacks show us why: James proposed to Kristen, and she turned him down, ending their relationship. Now they have to spend one last night together in a house he had set up for celebration. Rose petals, candlelight, champagne, it all drives home their misery even more. They clearly love each other, but for whatever reason Kristen didn’t want to take that next step. It’s a touching dramatic story that’s well executed.
Kinsey is a pain in the ass teen who tries to separate herself from her family as much as possible and likes to puff on cigarettes because she’s edgy, but not edgy enough to inhale. Tired of her getting in trouble, her parents are sending her off to boarding school. They’re taking a road trip to the school when they stop off to spend the night in the Gatlin Lake Getaway resort, which is off-season and mostly deserted. Kinsey does a lot of complaining and needs to get a “talking-to” from her family members. The drama is serviceable, not too meaningful or engaging.
A young blonde girl shows up at James and Kristen’s door, asking for Tamara. There is no Tamara, she’s actually scouting the place – when she returns, she’s wearing a dollface mask and is accompanied by two other masked people: Pin-Up Girl and Man in the Mask. All wielding sharp implements. These three proceed to torment the couple throughout the night, thwarting their attempts to escape, get help, or defend themselves at every turn. As a team, they are an unstoppable force. James and Kristen can’t do anything to get out of this, they never stand a chance.
If your favorite stranger was Pin-Up Girl, you’ll be disappointed to find that she drew the short straw this time, she doesn’t make much of an impression. Dollface and Man in the Mask overshadow her in a big way; Dollface gets kills and dialogue, while Man in the Mask gets kills and gets to tear around the resort in his pickup truck, smashing into vehicles and trailers, and even driving it around while it’s on fire. The strangers don’t seem quite as threatening or capable this time around – although they thought it would “be easier next time”, that certainly is not the case.
There’s not much I could strongly criticize about James and Kristen’s fight for survival, they’re just ill prepared and out of luck. Unable to call for help, they try to drive out of the situation but are stopped by the strangers’ pickup truck. Trapped, they find a gun and arm themselves, despite having no gun experience. Whenever James has a shot, he takes it. That doesn’t work out. The biggest mistake is made when James decides to abandon a defensive position in order to make a run for a radio. Sure, he has just accidentally shot his friend in the face, but that proves he was set up in a good spot to stop any strangers from reaching them.
This film features some of the most frustrating displays of victims not fighting hard enough to survive I have ever seen. We’re all seen characters who don’t deliver death blows and throw weapons away when they shouldn’t, but some of these characters take passivity to a whole new level – a couple of them basically hand themselves over to the strangers, making no attempt to stop blades from entering their bodies. Yet somehow a bunch that includes people who give up and don’t use weapons when they should proves to be more capable at fighting off the strangers than their predecessors. Damage is inflicted on the killers this time.
THE STRANGERS is firmly set in 2005, but aside from the presence of cell phones the film has a timeless feel to it, it could have been set any time in the last several decades. Director Bryan Bertino lets the events unfold at a deliberate pace; this is a very slow and quiet film, which I find helps it build up a palpable atmosphere of dread. Even after the strangers start causing trouble it remains surprisingly low-key, gradually working its way toward the action and violence.
Director Johannes Roberts brought an obvious love for John Carpenter and of the 1980s to his STRANGERS film, from the synth score to the font used for the title sequence. The ’80s nostalgia really shines through with the fact that nearly every major moment is accompanied by an ’80s tune playing on the soundtrack. As you’d expect from a follow-up, PREY AT NIGHT is faster paced and has bigger set pieces than the first STRANGERS, and the “love letter to the ’80s” aspect added to the fun.
Well, the result of this Face-Off is about what you’d usually expect when you put an original film up against its follow-up: while the second movie has its strong points, it just can’t overcome the first one. While I had some issues with the characters in THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT, I had a lot of fun watching the film. It’s a good time (I especially loved that unexpected ’80s nostalgia), but I find THE STRANGERS to be the better film overall.

Have you see THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT yet? If so, how do you think it measured up to THE STRANGERS? Share your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can contact me at [email protected].

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of JoBlo.com, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.