THE STRANGERS PART 2: PREY AT NIGHT
Review by Thad Timothy; Writer, Cult Classic Horror
Review Rating: 4 out of 5
Starring: Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, Christina Hendricks, Lewis Pullman
Directed by: Johannes Roberts
Written by: Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai
About the Film
Is Tamara here? In 2008, horror audiences were shown what remains to be one of the scariest movie trailers of all times. We watched uncomfortably as an unsuspecting Liv Tyler stood alone in her kitchen while a masked “stranger” stood motionless behind her. Of course the trailer I am referring to is that of Bryan Bertino’s unsettling home-invasion thriller “The Strangers.” With its all-too-real feel and “based on true events” anecdote, The Strangers terrified movie goers worldwide and after generating $82 million at the box office, against a $10 million dollar budget, a sequel seemed inevitable. Though the sequel was announced soon after the original films release, it eventually fell “prey” to development hell where it dwelled for nearly 10 years. Despite mixed reviews from horror fans and critics, The Strangers: Prey at Night is currently faring well at the box office raking in a current total of $24.5 million against a $10.5 million dollar budget. Bryan Bertino did not return to the director’s chair however, he did pen the original screenplay which was later updated by Ben Ketai who is known within the genre for scripting 2013’s Beneath and 2016’s The Forest. The film was directed by Johannes Roberts of 47 Meters Down fame and stars genre actors Bailee Madison and Martin Henderson.
We are reacquainted with “The Strangers” during the opening seen, watching as they prey upon an occupied mobile home in what appears to be an otherwise vacated trailer park. Following the brief yet creepy opening scene we are introduced to troubled teen Kinsey (Madison) and her family: father Mike (Henderson), mother Cindy (Hendricks), and brother Luke (Pullman). As the family packs for a road trip it becomes apparent that something is amiss with Kinsey and her seemingly exasperated parents. We later learn that Kinsey is a bit of a wild child and this road trip is a last ditch effort to spend time as a family before she is sent away to boarding school. While on their way, they decide to stay the night at an off-season mobile home park owned by a relative, the same place shown in the opening scene. It isn’t long after settling in that a stranger, referred to as “Doll face,” comes knocking on their door in search of Tamera. It is at this point that the intensity and pace of the movie increases and the fight for survival begins.
After nearly a 10 year wait, I honestly did not know what to expect from this film. When a film gets stuck in production hell it can end up being passed around and rewritten a hundred times over often causing it to lose its luster and appeal. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with The Strangers Prey at Night and liked it more and more upon reflection. In fact, it’s become one of my favorites of the year and one that just may make it to my top 10 list of horror sequels. Now, before you get too excited let me say that many of you will not share the same opinion about this film, even some of you diehard fans of the original. As I mentioned earlier, this film has been receiving mixed reviews by both critics and horror fans and that is most likely attributed to its new direction. The Strangers (2008) was no doubt a terrifying and disturbing film. Despite its common horror scenarios, a couple alone in the middle of nowhere being stalked by masked maniacs, there were elements of that film that transcended the genre and made these rather cliché scenarios feel realistic with or without consideration of its “based on true events” moniker. It’s drawn out suspense and void of levity (there is not a single happy moment or stab at humor-no pun intended) created an immense amount of tension and an overall feeling of dread and despair that once combined with the films vicious ending left audiences feeling like they had been put through the ringer. Rather than mimic its predecessor, this film trades the disturbing true story vibe for pure slasher fun in a way that is reminiscent of the subgenres gory glory days. Director Johannes Roberts does an excellent job of incorporating the films vast and dark location into a series of eerie and genuinely scary sequences most of which come as a surprise. Roberts also does a fine job of combining the story’s dramatic and horror elements in a way that does not ruin its pace. The characters are developed, and portrayed, well enough for us to genuinely care for them without knowing their complete family history or traveling into some long, drawn out backstory.
MINOR SPOILER ALERT – Perhaps my favorite thing about this sequel is that we learn nothing more about the masked killers. That’s right nothing. As horror fans know, sequels often feel the need to explore the origins of the killer(s) to explain what made them the way they are. More often than not, this approach ends up creating discrepancies in continuity (holes) and makes the villain appear less maniacal. The Strangers Prey at Night allows us to fully enjoy our masked killers…ruthless and without motive.
The performances in this film were also quite good. The new trio of “strangers” deliver the scares with unrelenting intensity, Bailee Madison makes a successful jump from child actress to leading lady and Lewis Pullman, son of veteran actor Bill Pullman, suggests that the apple may not have fallen far from the tree. Martin Henderson and Christina Hendricks also deliver solid performances and are what makes the family dynamic of the film work so well.
I recommend this film to fans of the slasher genre, particularly those of the 80’s.Though most fans of the original may appreciate seeing “the Strangers” wreak havoc again, they may not all appreciate the direction in which this film was approached. The scenarios in this film are less realistic and disturbing than in part one but the elements of a fun popcorn slasher flick are elevated on high. I personally had a good time with this one and look forward to seeing it again.
Additional Trivia (minor spoilers)
- Director Johannes Roberts’ previous film, 47 Meters Down, was 2017’s highest-grossing indie film.
- The scene in which Doll face taps on the window of the cop car and waves the keys before Kinsey is an homage to the 1996 horror classic “Scream.”
- Before the script was rewritten, Liv Tyler’s character Kristen McKay from the first film was killed during the opening scene.
- This was not Bailee Madison’s first foray into the horror genre. She also starred in “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and an episode of “R.L. Stine’s the Haunting Hour.”
- Martin Henderson played Noah in 2002’s horror sleeper hit “The Ring.”