**WARNING: Contains Moderate Spoilers**
The Strangers (2008) is one of the most unsettling home invasion movies ever put to screen. Starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a young couple who retreat to his childhood summer abode following a strained evening at a friend’s wedding reception; events take a chilling turn as they are tormented by a group of eerily masked psychopaths who will stop at nothing until blood is shed.
The original film unfolded as a disturbing cat and mouse game, and unlike many films of its brand, it unflinchingly opted to supply its assailants with no motivations for their violent crimes, simply killing just because they could, with their masks never slipping. This was considered reflective of a post-9/11 America where violence is viewed as a ‘random act’ according to film scholar, Kevin Wetmore when deconstructing the film at the time. With a highly sinister concept in the bag, the film strikes fear into its audience with the supposition that the killers are still out there, ready to inflict their deranged and murderous methods on innocuous, unsuspecting victims.
Following what seemed like years of development hell, a decade later a sequel has finally been released, titled, The Strangers: Prey at Night. Director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) was approached by producers to direct a sequel despite the fact ten years had passed since the release of the first. He of course undertook the challenge, bringing in his own slant to the source material. Original director and writer, Bryan Bertino co-wrote the script with Ben Ketai (The Forest), maintaining an element of the first one’s ethos.
In Prey at Night, a family of four with a tumultuous home life escape to an isolated trailer park owned by the mother’s Aunt and Uncle. Once they arrive, something doesn’t sit well when they are disturbed by a creepy, unknown girl who wants to know if ‘Tamara is home’. Fans of the original will then see the formula coming a mile off as we endure a sub-par slasher film that lazily conforms to all the trappings of tried and tested horror tropes leaving nothing to the imagination.
A disappointing an unnecessary sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night seems to just go through the motions, evoking the mid-late 00’s horror slump where either every significant, mainstream release was a remake of a classic title or a bunch of SAW (2004) imitators. The Strangers (2008) was
an exception, a silver lining as it were, as Bertino managed to conjure up a film that was unsettlingly scary and long lasting in the mind. Even though the ‘Home Invasion’ sub-genre is a horror movie staple, he created one that was genuinely memorable, whereas this sequel simply feels like a cash-in with no original thought of its own.
The characters do not occupy any sympathetic qualities, coming across as audaciously archetypal. Troublesome teenager, Kinsey (Bailee Madison), in particular is a walking cliché. Moody and pretentiously ‘edgy’, because she wears a Ramones t-shirt and smokes, we are supposed to envision her as this rebellious rule-breaker who has caused her family nothing but grief, therefore she is being sent away to boarding school. Instead, she just appears as a withdrawn, sulky teenager whose idea of rebellion is to storm off in a huff when her father tries to give her a predictable ‘pep talk’ and then goes off to, you guessed it, have a smoke. How badass!
Each of them displays laughably poor decision-making skills, they may as well walk straight into their attacker’s sharp, glistened blade and as a matter of fact for the most part, metaphorically speaking, that is exactly what they do! This is aided by the poorly written dialogue, how many times do we need to see characters walking straight into the peril, moseying around a dimly lit environment that they’re not supposed to be in, hearing an ominous noise and calling out, ‘hello?’ on the top of their voices? They may as well be wearing t-shirts stating, ‘Kill me now’.
The Man in The Mask, Dollface and Pin-Up Girl all make a return to savagely butcher their latest victims for sport. At least their function is to rid us of these dull, dismally designed characters. However, they come across as generic slashers, that have been seen a gazillion times before. The death scenes aren’t particularly exciting either, although there is one scene which takes place in a swimming pool with an aftermath that uncomfortably lingers, supplying one shred of impact within the film.
No matter how this film intends to be packaged, it’s not satirical nor clever. Their lazy and shameless attempt to replicate the ending of, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) provides much eye-rolling. Paying homage to an existing, well-regarded work does not elevate this poor, thinly-veiled film in any way. To give it some credit, it does incorporate a pleasing 80’s soundtrack, however that seemed shoehorned in, as the 80’s is commercially popular in contemporary pop culture, so why not include that element to draw viewers in?
The Strangers: Prey at Night seems to solely exist to cash-in on a well-known name. Seeing as a decade had passed, fans deserved more than a derivative, lacklustre sequel that could have been any horror movie for that matter. Hope isn’t lost in mainstream horror thanks to the likes of A Quiet Place, Ghost Stories and Hereditary which spooked and provoked cinema audiences this year. The Strangers: Prey at Night is simply a bump in the road in this year’s horror success. Utterly forgettable and unimaginative, stick with the original.
The Strangers: Prey at Night is available now for digital download courtesy of Vertigo Releasing.