Over two decades ago, “Scream” announced to the world that “it’s scarier when there is no motive” for the killers in horror movies. Upon its release in 2008, “The Strangers” leaned in hard to that hypothesis. With its atmospheric tension and unsettling conclusion, where the masked killers made “because you were home” one of the most terrifying lines ever, audiences were terrified to be home alone.
For the last decade, there have been rumors of a sequel, with the masked trio terrorizing new victims. The old adage says that good things come to those who wait, but Hollywood repeatedly begs to differ whenever it comes to long delayed sequels. “The Strangers: Prey at Night” isn’t worth your time or money and only tarnishes the original’s legacy.
“The Strangers” built a following based off of the film’s claustrophobic atmosphere, more than outright scares. The cat and mouse game played by the killers added to the tension, as they enjoyed playing with their victims before devouring them. All of it was made only more unsettling by the randomness of their motive. There is nothing unsettling about this follow-up, which forgoes all of the elements that made the original film work.
“Prey at Night” centers on a family on a road trip to send their bad girl daughter to boarding school. She doesn’t want to go and the script doesn’t bother to tell us why she deserves to go – though she smokes about a pack of cigarettes throughout without actually inhaling once. To break their trip up, they stop at a retirement trailer park community for the night and are quickly met with a familiar knock at the door.
Running under 90 minutes, “Prey at Night” doesn’t have much real estate to use as a cushion. Yet, it takes almost a half hour for the family to get their first, foreboding knock at the door. This time around the masked trio isn’t as interested in playing with their victims – they mean business. Luckily for them, the characters lose all their wits and common sense (if they ever had any). Everything you aren’t supposed to do in a horror movie? The family quickly checks them off one by one. Unlike the first film, the family could have easily driven out of the community to get the police when things get weird, but that never occurs to them.
Director Johannes Roberts (“47 Meters Down”) is obviously a horror fan, sprinkling in homages to classic horror movies like throughout. When it comes to directing them, however, he’s in over his head. Roberts throws everything at the screen in hopes of scaring the audience. None of it creates a cohesive threat or suspense during the film; rather it just moves from scene-to-scene, offering up an occasional jump scare.
Part of the issue with the film is the setting. The characters are given the complete run of this trailer park. Most horror movies require some suspension of belief, but the way the killers are able to constantly locate exactly where the other characters are hiding gets tiresome.
Bailee Madison, who cut her teeth coming up as a child actor, took the lead here as a way to begin transitioning into more mature roles. Unfortunately, she’s completely miscast as the black sheep of the family. Madison has proven that’s an adept actress is more straight-laced roles. But while attempting to be a tough delinquent, she conveys being upset by looking like she is on the verge of tears. If it wasn’t for the chain smoking and Ramones t-shirt, we wouldn’t have any depth to the character.
“The Strangers: Prey at Night” is an unnecessary sequel, being released only because it is easier to market a film with a built-in fan base than something that is completely unknown. To prove how watered down the sequel is, when asked why the killers are terrorizing them, instead of the classic “Because you were home” from the original, the audience is treated to, “Why not?” That also seems to be about as much thought put into the script. Rather than taking a second visit with this franchise, it’s better to heed the warning from your parents and stay away from this group of strangers.