In 2008, THE STRANGERS, written and directed by Bryan Bertino, was a modest horror movie that managed to conjure up post 9/11 anxiety and memories of the Manson family with its story of a young couple being terrorized in their house by three complete strangers. The trio of killers wore masks to hide their identity, and that, along with the film’s “they’re already in the house” jump-scares, resonated enough with audiences worldwide to gross $82 million on a mere $9 million budget.
Arguably, that movie, along with 2007’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, helped foster the current template for the cinematic horror of simple frighteners being shot for very little and promoted heavily for a big opening weekend, even if the films are merely so-so. The worst side effect of this trend is that such successes spawn sequels, and almost all of them are worse than the previous outing.
For some reason, it took THE STRANGERS a decade to return with its sequel. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a cynical attempt to reboot the idea that had a certain cachet and success 10 long years ago, but its tardiness is not a good sign. Nonetheless, here it is, entitled THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT and that uninspiring moniker is the second sign this isn’t going to be a satisfying time for horror fans. In fact, this film has so many dumb characters and makes so many dunderheaded errors in storytelling, you can practically envision the inevitable “Everything Wrong With” video that will be done by CinemaSins of it for YouTube while watching it.
To keep this funeral brief before it’s buried, here are just five of the film’s most laughably awful moments:
The teen girl Kinsey (Bailee Madison) is supposed to be edgy. How do we know that? She wears black nail polish and a Ramones T-shirt. Oh, and for good measure, she wears that T off the shoulder. Ah, kids these days…
The dysfunctional family in the story (Madison, along with Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, and Lewis Pullman) decides to take a weekend vacation to…wait for it…a trailer park. It’s a rundown one at that, too, and because they’re visiting during the ‘off-season’, they’re the only guests. That cannot be good for the park’s Yelp rating.
After the mom is killed (Hendricks, taking her paycheck and waving bye-bye after 30 minutes), her two children are given an opportunity to shoot her killer. They don’t of course because they’re fraidy-cats, and the masked teenage maniac gets away to wreak more havoc. (Where is the POTUS when you need him? I bet he’d run in their even if he didn’t have a gun.)
Later in the film, Kinsey is stuck in a sheriff’s truck with the teenage maniac and she finally shoots her point blank with the lawman’s shotgun. The wound is to the stomach and sends the brat flying out the door onto the pavement, but the teenage maniac survives, is still able to speak, and even throw some serious shade at Kinsey before a second shot silences her.
The four tourists never see the Strangers coming, even though they have 360-degree sight, while their tormentors all wear masks with limited peripheral vision. At night.
One could go on about how no one in the family hears the other’s screaming, or the Strangers’ roaring trucks crashing into homes, or the various gunshots, but that would be asking the filmmakers to apply some basic logic to the proceedings. They can’t even fill the film with enough story to last 85 minutes, and that’s with the end credits. Sure, there are a few genuine jump-scares that work, but they’re cheap. And some of the killing and suffering is dragged out so long, especially one in a truck, you wonder if this is less an exercise in cinema and more of one in sadism.
All you really have to know is that the preview audience I saw it with not only screamed “Get outta there!” to the idiotic characters in the story multiple times but also yelled things like, “Man, that is dumb!” and “You stupid fool, shoot her!” Any horror filmmaker wants visceral audience reactions, but not the kind that demonstrates utter contempt for those we should be rooting for. Is that what returning screenwriter Bertino and Ben Ketai, along with director Johannes Roberts, wanted out of this?
At least the dog in this horror film doesn’t get killed. He runs away 30 minutes in. Lucky pooch.