"The movie only really starts to get interesting as the weak characters start being picked off one by one," says Edward Douglas.
For whatever reason, there’s been a slew of home invasion movies over the past decade. Part of that might be attributed to Bryan Bertino’s 2008 film The Strangers, which came out at the height of the “torture porn” craze that permeated the Saw films then later The Purge and its sequels. It also can be blamed on the fact that home invasions became a large part of the news cycle, and the terror of someone showing up in the middle of the night, wanting to kill you for no particular reason, has become far too real.
Once again claiming to be “based on a true story,” the sequel to Bertino’s film revolves around married couple Cindy and Mike (Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson), their daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and son Luke (Lewis Pullman), as they travel to an abandoned mobile home campground where they’re terrorized by a trio of killers wearing Halloween masks.
There isn’t much more to say about the plot except that this is a family that has issues, who are desperately trying to reconnect while on vacation together. It’s unclear why they would go to the creepiest abandoned campground after Labor Day when there literally is no one else there, but maybe they got a good Groupon discount.
When a knock comes at the door, it’s a young woman asking if someone named "Tamra" is there, who then walks away when denied only to return wearing a mask with malevolent intentions. She’s joined by a large hulk of a man, similarly masked, who has a penchant for Bonnie Raitt and Kim Wilde, whose ‘80s hit “Kids in America” becomes an almost comic soundtrack for the film. There’s a third “stranger” but after giving Kinsey a scare (as seen in the trailer), she doesn’t serve much purpose.
47 Meters Down director Johannes Roberts helms the sequel, which doesn’t make any more effort to explain the motivations of the killers than Bertino’s film did. Roberts also makes no bones about John Carpenter being his primary influence for the movie, and his ability to channel the horror-master, particularly the original Halloween, ends up being one of the biggest saving graces for an otherwise bland movie.
Essentially, the actors playing the family at the heart of this horror gives the viewer very little reason to care what happens to them. Partially, that’s the fault of the screenwriters (including Bertino) who don’t do enough to differentiate this family from every other family that’s been terrorized in a horror movie, but Hendricks who hasn’t really show much range since the end of Mad Men.
18-year-old Bailee Madison, already a horror vet from starring in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, probably comes across the best, mainly because she’s more involved with the film’s last half as the threat becomes more real and the action intensifies. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but when you no longer have to concentrate on things like “dialogue” and “characterization,” and can just enjoy the panicked terror and tension being created by Roberts and his team, The Strangers: Prey at Night is far more enjoyable.
When one of the killers is asked “Why are you doing this?” their answer is “Why not?” It might be frustrating to those who desire clear-cut answers about what motivates these masked killers, but it’s also one of the film’s more genius moments, because in this day and age, what else is there for millennials to do with their free time than to randomly murder people at an abandoned campground?
For this type of thing, The Strangers: Prey at Night isn’t terrible, but that’s mainly due to Roberts’ skills as a filmmaker and the film’s climactic final act, because the movie only really starts to get interesting as the weak characters start being picked off one by one.
Running time: 85 minutes
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor