It has been ten years, and ‘the strangers’ are back for more in the belated sequel to the 2008 sleeper hit. The original “Strangers”, written and directed by Bryan Bertino, starred Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a couple spending a weekend at a friend’s vacation home, only to be tormented by a group of masked people, who act as a cinematic “Manson family,” if you will. While most of the film did not match the phenomenally tense first act, it still managed to be entertaining, which is incredible since Bertino had not directed anything prior. For the sequel, Bertino has stepped down from the directors chair, and has been replaced by Johannes Roberts, who previously directed the competent, yet lackluster, 47 Meters Down.
Teenager Kinsey, played by Bailee Madison, is a rebellious troublemaker, and her behavior has become too much for her mom and dad, played by Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson, respectively. They decide to enroll Kinsey in boarding school, which means taking a trip down there with the whole family, including her brother, Luke. Since it is a long trip, they make a stop at a trailer park, owned by Kinsey’s uncle, to spend the night. Upon arriving, they discover that the trailer park is deserted, except for a welcome note containing the key for their trailer. (Their trailer is number 47. I see what you did there, Roberts!) Not long after they get settled in their trailer, the family receives a bizarre visit from a young woman who knocks on their door, asks for “Tamra,” and then leaves. If you’ve seen the first film, you’ll know that she will eventually come back with reinforcements. Sure enough, she does, and once the family realizes that these masked people murdered Kinsey’s uncle, they must try to get out of the trailer park alive.
One thing I was thankful for with this sequel is that it does not do the exact same thing as the first one, to an extent. The basic premise is still front and center, but setting the story within a trailer park as opposed to one house is a major plus in the filmmakers’ favor. There is something exciting about the protagonists having to run through an unpopulated trailer park at night, that you can’t find in a singular house setting. One can argue that this would make the scares less claustrophobic, but the filmmakers have made the trailer park look like a misty graveyard, which is as fun to look at as it is unsettling. This shows Johannes Roberts’ strengths as a director, in that he is good with atmosphere. The scenes revealing that the killers are in the background stand out especially.
Another major difference that benefits the film is its choice of soundtrack. While the first film’s soundtrack had more of a leaning towards indie and country, this film’s music consists of 80’s pop. The opening sequence of the film involves the killers claiming their first trailer park victim, all while their car radio is blasting Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.” Another fatality is done in a pool while Bonnie Tyler is playing over the loudspeaker. Maybe this is just the filmmakers riding off the gigantic wave of 80s nostalgia seen in projects like Stranger Things and Thor: Ragnarok, but the passé’ soundtrack gives the film a certain charm.
Anyone who has seen the first film will recognize all of the callbacks to the previous film, which includes repeated dialogue (“Is Tamra home?” and “Leave us alone!”), to the victims’ phones being destroyed by the killers, and even the house occupants fixing the porch light. These callbacks are fine enough, but then there are some weird ones, such as when a character blatantly states that the property’s original owner used to keep a gun. Honestly, callbacks in this films should not surprise me too much given that Bertino once again wrote the script, but there some lines that don’t need to be copied and pasted.
Another issue I had with this film was the actors’ performances, and they range from passable to wooden. The actor playing the older brother seemed oddly restrained, in that if I personally shared his experiences in this film, I would be reacting more emotionally than he did. The only real standout in this film is Bailee Madison, whose Christina Ricci-like angst was mildly enjoyable.
In addition to the uneven performances, the film also has a problem with handling the drama, which was also an issue with Roberts’ 47 Meters Down. All of the relationship issues backing the film’s story are dealt with in one scene, which undermines the suspense that follows. But hey, that’s not we’re here to see! We’re here to see people die at the hands of the killers. As far as violence goes, this film has plenty of it, including car crashes, swimming pool stabbings, and chases through a playground crawl tunnel. Thankfully, as gory as the kills are, Roberts seems to have enough of a grasp on the concept of restraint. Most of the film’s real thrills come from the chilling atmosphere, which is where I believe the heart behind ‘The Strangers’ truly lies
The Strangers: Prey at Night is a satisfyingly fun sequel to the 2008 film. It is not a perfect film, but there is enough fresh material and creative atmosphere to keep it from being forgettable. As for Johannes Roberts, this film marks a significant step forward regarding his directing career. In an era where horror movies with slightly recognizable titles are awarded sequels, this one is a step above average, and is an enjoyable time at the movies. Do not answer the knock, but do come out and see this film!