Ten years after the 2008 original, The Strangers: Prey at Night sees the same trio of masked murderers making mayhem in a trailer park. Directed by Johannes Roberts and written by Brian Bertino, this derivative sequel stars Martin Henderson, Christina Hendricks and Bailee Madison.
I’ve seen a lot of words used to describe The Strangers: Prey at Night, some good, some bad. But my favourites are the ones offered by Mark Dujsik in his review at rogerebert.com: “A chilling and genuinely frightening horror film.”
This, in my mind, is about the most ridiculous thing that has ever been written about any other thing, so much so that I feel professionally and morally justified in adding Mr. Dujsik to the list of critics whose work I intentionally seek out just to feel better about my own (admittedly questionable) taste in media.
I have some words of my own about The Strangers: Prey at Night, including “tripe”, “utter” and “f*****g”, although not necessarily in that order. You have to wonder for a moment why a film like this gets made, although given that it has already grossed several times its budget, the answer is depressingly obvious. Even a decade gap between this and its predecessor, which is a long time between a movie and its sequel, especially in this genre, couldn’t dampen enthusiasm for the Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei) and his two cherubic accomplices, Pin-Up Girl (Lea Enslin) and Dollface (Emma Bellomy).
I liked The Strangers, mostly thanks to the refreshingly horrible third-act revelation that the masked intruders were irrational nutters who were butchering an entire family just because they felt like it. This sequel returns to the same well for another helping of sour irrationality. At one point, our intrepid heroine, Kinsey (Madison), asks a newly-unmasked Dollface why it’s her family being terrorised. The simple answer is “why not?” which I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a pale imitation of the almost-iconic “because you were home” zinger from the first film. The rest of The Strangers: Prey at Night feels very much like that too.
Kinsey is the youngest of her family; a try-hard rebel in an off-the-shoulder Ramones t-shirt who chain smokes without inhaling. She has an older brother (Lewis Pullman) and parents (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) who are rightly shipping her off to boarding school. Before that, though, they’re taking their screw-up darling daughter to an abandoned trailer park owned by their Uncle Marvin, who it turns out is a mangled cadaver we got to see being offed in a brief opening scored to a bit of classic 80s pop.
That turns out to be a recurring motif in The Strangers: Prey at Night – bursts of tame stabbing, beating and shooting scored to anachronistic dance anthems, like someone sat on their iPod during filming. As far as cutesy stylistic quirks go I’ve certainly seen worse, but I’ve also seen better, including some with an actual point, which is something that this film lacks even more than its relatively rote predecessor.
The reality, of course, is that the morbid climax of the original was only really designed to work that one time, which is likely why a sequel took so long to arrive. This film also lacks the seeping hopelessness that eventually soaked into the first film’s familiar foundations, instead being content to allow its heroes – likeable enough, but far from memorable – to take the fight to their tormentors. It’s such a formulaic approach that any goodwill the thing might have earned with its offbeat needle drops and nihilistic sensibilities is quickly squandered on a bloodsoaked box-checking tour of the trailer park and every attendant genre trope the filmmakers can cram inside it.
The filmmaker in this case is Johannes Roberts, and he’s worth a mention for lending a fair amount of technical skill to an otherwise shamelessly derivative project. There’s nothing particularly clever about his overall approach, but along with his cinematographer, Ryan Samul, he manages to find some effective shots, and the trailer park as a setting offers up plenty of tight spaces and unusual angles that mess with light and distance. His one bravura sequence is an aquatic axe-wielding set-piece alongside and in a swimming pool, and it’s the one honestly effective moment in the whole film.
The rest of it is, for want of a better word, s**t. And it pains me to say that, really, because as much fun as I have ridiculing terrible movies, I have a lot more fun watching great ones. But you can’t have everything, and it was unlikely that lightning was ever going to strike twice, even if the lightning of the original was one of those weak flashes that only really unsettles your cat.