The ending of The Strangers: Prey at Night explained

2008's The Strangers told the simple story of a random home invasion that resonated with audiences worldwide, bringing in over $82 million in box office receipts against a small $9 million budget. While that kind of performance warranted a sequel, no one thought it would take nearly ten years to happen. But now the Strangers have returned, with a new setting, a new cast, and perhaps new villains — but the threat that the bad guys represent remains the same. How do you prepare yourself to fight an enemy that attacks you just because? That's the scary thing — you can't.

The Strangers: Prey at Night follows a family of four: Christina Hendricks as mom Cindy, Martin Henderson as papa Mike, Lewis Pullman as son Luke, and Bailee Madison as daughter Kinsey. Together, they set off on a trip to visit an aunt and uncle in a countryside trailer park, arriving during the offseason when most of the residents are gone. At first, it sounds like a quaint getaway, but the isolation of the location becomes a terrifying problem when a trio of masked strangers descends on the family with murder on their minds. The family sticks together to fight back, but not everyone makes it out alive. Now that we're all safe at home, let's break down the ending of The Strangers: Prey at Night.

Private swim

The climax of The Strangers: Prey at Night kicks into high gear once the parents are out of the picture, with both Cindy and Mike meeting their ends at the hands of the sadistic invaders. In a last, desperate dash to survive, Kinsey and Luke set off to flee the confines of the trailer park.

Before they manage to meet, Kinsey has a horrifying encounter with Dollface, caught at a fence at the edge of the park and getting wounded in the encounter. When Luke and Kinsey reunite, brother instructs sister to lay in hiding, conserving her energy while Luke sprints for help alone.

Luke doesn't get very far. When he makes it to the trailer park's pool, he comes face-to-face with the axe-wielding Man in the Mask, the bagheaded daddy figure of the sick Strangers family. Luke puts up a struggle, taking the fight from the pool's edge into the water, but he's overpowered, cut up, and left to drown. It seems like things are over for Luke, until two hands burst into the water and pull him up — it's Kinsey, back on her feet, there to save her brother in the nick of time. With his wounds much more severe than hers, the siblings switch places, with Luke hiding away while Kinsey makes a final break for it.

Mask off?

By the time the kids are making their last run for it, the strangers are down to two in number. During the fight at the trailer park fence, it seems like Kinsey might be able to take out Dollface. When Dollface gets momentarily incapacitated, Kinsey considers lifting up the woman's mask, but doesn't. What would that reveal, anyway? The killer is a stranger to the audience and Kinsey both. Her real face wouldn't tell us any more about her motives than the mask does, so Kinsey leaves without investigating, the woman behind the mask remaining anonymous.

The theme of anonymity hangs heavily over both of the Strangers movies. In the original, the three burglars remove their masks with their backs to the audience, indicating that their real identities don't really matter. These attacks are not personal. In the original movie, the targets were chosen "because you were home." In The Strangers: Prey at Night, Dollface's stated motivation is just as sinister, and twice as succinct: "Why not?"

Cavalry call

Struggling toward the exit of the trailer park, Kinsey stumbles into the street, all but landing in the lap of a passing police officer. Yes, the cops are here — a cop, at least — and he shows up so out of nowhere that Kinsey can barely believe her eyes. The last people she's laid eyes on are her dead mother, her dying father, and the criminals that killed both of them. Suddenly, like an angel sent from heaven, there's a friendly, human face.

Kinsey's surprise turns to shocked relief as she falls into the arms of the police officer, but as her emotions swell, her senses dull, and neither she nor the lawman notices the killer approaching from behind. By the time Kinsey sees her, it's too late to do anything but watch the police officer die, screaming as a revived Dollface does him in with her butcher's blade.

One shot, one kill

It's a classic slasher tradition that the killer never goes down the first time. While Kinsey's encounter with Dollface at the fence of the Gatlin Lake park left her incapacitated, the kid didn't go in for the kill, and whatever evil animates the woman behind Dollface's mask is strong enough to bring her back for a second round.

When Dollface kills the cop in cold blood, all looks lost for our wayward heroine. But while the officer may have lost his life, he left behind the tools that Kinsey needs to fight back.

The stranger's prey doesn't realize this immediately. In one of The Strangers: Prey at Night's most harrowing moments, Kinsey tries to commandeer the police car while Dollface overpowers her, pushing her into the passenger seat as she stabs at her over and over. But just when you think you're about to be stuck watching the protracted death of an innocent teen, Kinsey gets tactical. Where is she? A police car. And what do police carry? Well, this one had a shotgun.

The movie's most hopeless scene then pivots to its most triumphant moment as Kinsey grabs the shotty, chambers a cartridge, and executes that witch Dollface with one brutal blast to the dome. Take that.

I think we're alone now

Two down, one to go.

After surviving another scrape, Kinsey, battered and bleeding, begins trying to start up the police car to make a decisive escape. In the window behind her, headlights loom and then approach. The truck pulls up alongside Kinsey — it's the Man in the Mask, of course.

Both Strangers movies are notable for showcasing the playful sadism of the killers. Often, they get a chance to execute their victims and just… don't, preferring to terrify and taunt their prey like a mean cat giving a trapped mouse the slow goodbye. In The Strangers: Prey at Night, it's a tactic that works against them, allowing their victims just enough chances to get lucky, get away, or get revenge.

This time, the Man in the Mask's taunt of choice involves the chart-topping songs of the '80s. Side-by-side with Kinsey's car, the masked man cranks the radio on Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now," a coincidentally on-the-nose choice for the encounter. If the last stranger standing knows his two comrades are dead, he really doesn't seem to care.

The movie's director, Johannes Roberts, took on a personal role in selecting the pop songs for the movie, giving the slasher movie scenes a throwback feel with maximum ironic effect. It's totally corny, but a lot of fun, especially the portion of the climax given over to Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

Twisted metal

The Man in the Mask goes in for the kill by repeatedly backing up and smashing into Kinsey's car until they both go up in flames, leading to an explosion. Here, the ultimate stranger begins to appear to be borderline unkillable, surviving the blast to chase down Kinsey while driving his flaming truck after her as she flees on foot.

By then, the fires have burned off the man's mask, but they've also burned away the flesh of his face, with the killer remaining anonymous right down to the bone. Again, our access to the killer's face is denied, and even if we had it, it wouldn't mean anything. The strangers aren't monsters, they're just people, and they could be anybody. This detail is an important part of the ending that informs The Strangers: Prey at Night's ambiguous final moments — if you survived an encounter this brutal, how could you ever trust a stranger again?

The hitchhiker

As she flees the flaming truck, Kinsey sticks to the road, which works to her advantage once again as a pickup truck approaches. Just as you start to think the encounter is only going to up the killer's body count, luck turns Kinsey's way again. The Man in the Mask is forced out of the truck to chase her on foot, and Kinsey seizes the opportunity. She leaps into the back of the truck, screaming at the driver to put the pedal to the floor as the burnt-up axeman grabs at the back of the truck and swings at her — but the truck builds up speed, the killer loses his grip… and Kinsey escapes.

The ending is highly reminiscent of the conclusion of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and just as open-ended. In that movie, the final girl pulled the exact same move, taking refuge in the back of a passing truck while the villain, Leatherface, receded into the distance behind her. But while that movie cut to credits at that point, The Stangers: Prey at Night continues — and that's when things get ambiguous.

Denouement

The movie's ending scene is understated and bittersweet, as it's revealed that Kinsey's escape did result in Luke's rescue. Reunited and alive, the newly orphaned siblings sit alone together in a dark hospital room. Luke lays in the bed, unconscious, while Kinsey sits at his side, lost in contemplation. The horrors of the night before won't leave her soon, but at least the two of them made it. Save for the machines, the room is silent — until there comes a knock at the door. Kinsey looks into the middle distance. She doesn't panic, but she's paralyzed. Someone is outside the door — a stranger. A killer? Who can say?

The ending of the movie is a metaphor for trauma, and the lasting effects that a horrifying experience can have on a person's psyche. What did her family do to deserve this torment? Nothing. What could she have done differently to avoid it? Nothing. The fate of her family was tied to the whims of three strangers, and at least one of them is still out there. And who knows how many other people around her hold that kind of evil? The knock at the door is probably a nurse, a doctor, a family friend. The chance of it being a killer is vanishingly low. But after this experience, Kinsey can never trust a stranger again, and knocks at the door will menace her for the remainder of her life.