Ten years ago, a little horror film called “The Strangers” was released into theaters. It was nothing particularly ground-breaking, but it did provide a few good thrills with its terrifying home-invasion tale. Alas, it was critically maligned at the time, but did quite well at the box office, and has since gone on to become something of a cult classic to fans of the genre. It seemed inevitable that a sequel would one day be hitting the big screen, though I don’t think anyone expected it to take quite so long, especially when we tend to get sequels churned out within a couple of years. Was the long delay a sign of trouble in regards to cracking a proper follow-up, or is this one that the filmmakers just wanted to make sure was done right? After ten long years, we finally have the answer.
“The Strangers: Prey at Night” focuses on a family of four: Mike (Martin Henderson), Cindy (Christina Hendricks), and their two kids, Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and Luke (Lewis Pullman). On their way to drop off Kinsey at a boarding school, they stay in a trailer park owned by an aunt and uncle of theirs. Not long after their arrival, the kids find the aunt and uncle brutally murdered, and soon the entire family is under attack from the three killers from the first film: The Man in the Mask (Damian Maffei), Dollface (Emma Bellomy), and Pin-Up Girl (Lea Enslin). It becomes a fight for survival as the axe- and knife-wielding psychos hunt their prey in the empty trailer park.
The original “The Strangers” was indeed an intriguing experience, as we watched the young couple (as played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) fight for their lives against the trio of killers, whose simple answer to the question of why was “because you were home.” Again, it was nothing particularly unique, but the tension it’s able to build up in its brief 80-minute runtime is palpable (I don’t think anyone will ever forget that shot of The Man in the Mask suddenly strolling out into frame far behind Liv Tyler). It didn’t really feel like a film that needed a sequel, but done right, the result could be just as thrilling.
When it comes to “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” it seemed to have everything it needed right in the setup: an isolated and deserted location, a seemingly-defenseless family, the creepy killers from the first film, etc. All that the writers needed to add was some good-old-fashioned thrills in the form of a sensible cat-and-mouse game between the killers and family. Unfortunately this is where the sequel fails to live up to the premise of the original, for the excitement and energy of the first film has been replaced by puzzlement and plenty of head-shaking as the characters go about making a series of one idiotic decision after another.
The screenplay by Bryan Bertino (writer of the original) and Ben Ketai tries to throw in a number of tense moments, but it’s a little hard to find yourself getting caught up in these moments when you’re continually asking yourself why a character did what they did. Why did you need to go check on the dead bodies? Why did you declare to the killers that you have a gun? Why did you not shoot them when you had the chance? Why did you not fight back when it was two against one? Why did one of the characters let themselves get stabbed? Questions like this continue to pile up as the film goes on, eventually forcing you to throw your hands up in the air, give up, and start a list of really bad character decisions. True, unintelligent characters are not exactly a new revelation when it comes to horror films, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when the writers really go out of their way to make them so.
There is something to be said in its favor though: The final act does everything it can to try and overcome the mess that the characters have gotten themselves into by amping up the craziness, all set to a rockin’ 80s soundtrack that includes Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.” It’s just too bad that it’s not nearly enough to forgive all of the utter silliness that came before it (or the eye-rolling ending that follows).
A sequel like this certainly had potential, and there was no reason that it couldn’t have been just as creepy as the decade-old original, but the fundamental flaws in the script that take you right out of the film hold it back from being the tense thriller that the writers want it to be. It’s a shame that horror fans waited ten years only to get a sequel this perplexing and disappointing. Chances are that we won’t be seeing another, which is probably for the best. The original stands as a fine piece of horror filmmaking, and a subpar sequel does nothing to take away from that.
“The Strangers: Prey at Night” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. This is a pretty dark film for a majority of its runtime, but the picture always remains perfectly clear and sharp throughout. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a little on the soft side when it comes to the dialogue, making a slight volume adjustment necessary, but for the most part, the audial quality is outstanding, especially when it comes to the soundtrack and sound effects. Overall, the film has been given great treatment, which horror fans should be able to appreciate even if they don’t care for the film itself.
Alternate Ending (2 Minutes): A very slightly different ending that merely adds a few seconds onto the clichéd conclusion.
A Look Inside: The Strangers: Prey at Night (2 Minutes): A mislabeled featurette that’s nothing more than brief snippets of footage from the film and the actors telling you what it’s about.
Family Fights Back (2 Minutes): Another very brief featurette that’s basically the same as the previous one.
The Music of The Strangers: Prey at Night (3 Minutes): A featurette that has director Johannes Roberts and actress Bailee Madison discussing the film’s soundtrack.
“Prep for Night” Music Video – Director’s Cut (2 Minutes)
“The Strangers: Prey at Night” marks a perplexing and unsatisfying end to the ten-year wait for a sequel to the thrilling original, replacing the tension and excitement with inexplicable character decisions that will merely leave you scratching your head. The film does feature a compelling climax and a pretty good soundtrack, but when compared to the silliness of the vast majority of the film, it’s simply not enough to make up for its overwhelming shortcomings.