Option (a): call for help in an abandoned park; Option (b): run!
After a commercially successful release back in 2008, The Strangers was set to begin shooting its sequel in the fall of 2009. That didn’t happen. Instead it took nearly a decade for the project to re-emerge with original writer Bryan Bertino and director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) attached. With the original’s buzz long gone, Strangers: Prey at Night faces a tougher task than many sequels.
Beleaguered parents Mike (Martin Henderson; The Ring) and Cindy (Christina Hendricks; Mad Men) have reached the end of their rope with defiant daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and have decided to send her off to boarding school. On the way, the three of them, along with their son Luke (Lewis Pullman), plan to stop at a trailer park run by an aunt and uncle.
They arrive at night to find the office closed and a note from the uncle directing them to head to a trailer and they’ll see each other in the morning. Shortly after settling in they hear a knock at the door as an unidentified girl is apparently looking for someone. Despite being told they have the wrong trailer, the girl returns later and asks again.
This time Cindy is freaked out, and she and Mike go out looking for their kids, who have started exploring the seemingly abandoned park. It doesn’t take long for the parents to encounter Kinsey and Luke running away from finding a grisly murder, and the realization starts to set in that they might not be alone in the park after all.
We liked the way the movie was actually filmed. Things are well staged to convey the emptiness (and vastness) of the trailer park along with the family’s obliviousness to their plight — such as when a camera pans to follow someone running and finds one of the strangers in the foreground waiting to follow. You’ll need to suspend disbelief for some stuff (like the playground jump scare), but its cinematography feels different than standard horror fare.
Prey at Night is helped by a couple steady performances from the parents. That’s no surprise from Hendricks, who starred as Joan on Mad Men, but Henderson proves to be a solid horror actor again some 15-plus years after playing Naomi Watts‘ love interest in The Ring. The kids are decent enough, though the Kinsey character is such a painful stereotype it’s hard to muster much sympathy.
In theory, being hunted by killers “just because” has some potential. Here, however, it feels flat. The strangers collectively utter no more than a handful of lines and move painfully slowly at times. There’s no backstory, no mystery or motivation to uncover, and no origin. OK, they’re crazy… and? When confronted with harm and even death they display no pain or fear. So why bother rooting for the family if there’s going to be no satisfaction in them “winning?”
When we mentioned suspension of disbelief we meant it. Despite being presented as a man and two young women, the strangers have no other discernible grounding in reality. Their ability to track the family across a massive trailer park in darkness is absurd. They’re never more than a half-step behind (and sometimes they’re even ahead). Oh, and again, they’re totally emotionless.
What really ends up hurting Prey at Night, though, is ridiculous character behaviour. It’s hard to go too deep without spoilers, but here’s one example (and trust us, there are several more): At one point one of the family members is trapped by the blonde female stranger. She has a knife. Rather than do anything and everything to survive, she just submits to her fate. It triggered one of the hardest eye rolls in recorded history.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There’s fewer than 10 minutes of extras here, though it does offer both theatrical and unrated cuts of the film. The alternate ending is slightly different than what made it into the release, adding what feels like a supernatural element — it’s good they didn’t use it. A short music video is also semi-interesting, but everything else is throwaway stuff.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is a visually interesting film that’s populated by characters that don’t give you any reason to care about them or root for/against them. The Strangers felt like it had real stakes. Its sequel is just generic horror.