Director: Johannes Roberts
Screenplay: Bryan Bertino, Ben Ketai
Starring: Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, Lewis Pullman
Duration: 85 min
BBFC Certification: 15
2008’s low-budget home invasion horror The Strangers was a highly effective piece of work that proved to be an unexpected hit. The set up was simple – a couple, played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman find themselves terrorised in their own home by three masked strangers. In much the same way that many horrors of the 70s did, the film built its tension slowly, with much of the violence and gore being kept until the third act. And at the climax of the film, a beaten and bloody Tyler asks the uninvited visitors why they are torturing them, to which one of them replies, “Because you were home.” This lack of motivation is what made the film so terrifying, the fact that you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the film was a box office success, a sequel was immediately greenlit although it has taken 10 years to finally be released. That sequel, titled The Strangers: Prey at Night, takes all that was great about the original and jettisons it to produce a pretty bland generic slasher film.
After a short prologue that shows one of the masked strangers make another nocturnal house call, we are introduced to the standard film dysfunctional family. Teenager Kensey (Bailee Madison) is the typical bad girl (cut off Ramones shirt, motorcycle boots, smokes cigarettes) who is being shipped off to boarding school as her parents Mike (Martin Henderson) and Cindy (Christina Hendricks) have had enough of her ways. The plan is for them plus son Luke (Lewis Pullman) to spend the weekend at Uncle Martin’s trailer park before dropping Bailee off at school.
The family arrives at the deserted trailer park late in the evening and find keys and a note from Uncle Martin telling them to settle into the trailer and he will see them in the morning. Shortly after moving into their accommodation there is a knock at the door, which Cindy opens to be greeted by a young woman who asks, “Is Tamara home?” After Cindy tell hers she has the wrong trailer, the stranger walks off into the night.
Shortly after arguing with her parents, Kensey storms out of the trailer with Luke quickly following her. While they are gone the young woman knocks on the door again and repeats her question to Mike before walking off again. Finding this too strange, Cindy convinces Mike to go out and find the children who she is afraid may be in danger. Meanwhile, the kids investigate an apparently abandoned trailer where they stumble across the bodies of their Aunt and Uncle.
Based on a script from the director of the first film, Johannes Roberts follows characters that are in emotional turmoil before they are targeted by the killers. However, the dialogue heavy first act is slow and boring and doesn’t connect as the director must’ve hoped. The dynamic between the family unit is not as interesting as that between the couple whose relationship is close to an end in the original. Most of the conversations are badly written clichés and the characters are underdeveloped cyphers.
Once the action ramps up, the characters become some of the dumbest in horror history, never once making a correct decision. They don’t fight back, and they always run to the most obvious hiding places. And they split up so fast, you wonder if they’re being manipulated by outside forces such as those in Cabin in The Woods.
Johannes Roberts is obviously a fan and student of slasher films and most noticeably riffs off John Carpenter. The score is a perfect bargain basement copy of Carpenter’s iconic Halloween theme and motifs, whilst there are scenes which hopelessly plagiarise Christine and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There have been plenty of films recently that have paid homage to the classics of the 80s but still managed to be great films in the own rights but The Strangers: Prey at Night is not one of them. To use an 80s analogy, it’s like watching a heavily cut version of a film on a 10th generation copy VHS tape.
The result is a film with a lack of any suspense as any attempts of increasing tension are replaced with generic scenes of running, hiding, and running some more. Originally the killers were simply human beings in masks, but this time around they are supernaturally strong and difficult to take down. Their ability to find just the right hiding spot in the large trailer park to be able pounce on an unsuspecting victim is just outstanding.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is not a film I would recommend if you have seen the original. If you haven’t you may enjoy this one. Technically, it’s not a bad film – the cinematography and sound design is pretty good, and the acting is perfunctory. If you can forgive the stupidity of the characters and ignore some of the jumps in logic in the storytelling, then you can find worse ways to kill a few hours. Trust me, I have sat through some drivel in my time that would make this one look like Citizen Kane.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is released on DVD by Universal Pictures UK