Indeed, “The Strangers: Prey for Night” (** OUT OF ****) arrives ten years later as a belated sequel to writer & director Bryan Bertino’s 2008 horror chiller “The Strangers.” Although Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) survived in the original “Strangers,” she doesn’t show up for the sequel. While Bertino received first credit for writing this follow-up film, “Forrest of the Damned” director Johannes Roberts has taken over the helm, and “30 Days of Night: Dark Days” scribe Ben Ketai has contributed to the screenplay. Mind you, “The Strangers: Prey for Night” lacks the nihilistic artistry of “The Strangers.” Nevertheless, the sequel proves far more satisfying in terms of dramatic closure. Whereas only Liv Tyler lived in “The Strangers,” two characters escape the knives, ax, and vehicular mayhem in “Prey for Night.” No, you don’t need to watch “The Strangers” again to appreciate its tardy sequel. If you do, you may notice certain scenes are replicated here for greater impact. One of the things that made “The Strangers” such a startling exercise in terror was its violence. At one point, Kristen’s terrified boyfriend, James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) found a shotgun. Unfortunately, when he wielded it, Hoyt accidentally killed Mike (Glenn Howerton), his best friend. Since the front door stood ajar, Mike had blundered into the house, and Hoyt mistook Mike for one of the three foes. Nobody perishes from friendly fire in “Prey at Night.” The two films share some similarities, but they remain largely different based on their respective settings. “The Strangers” emphasized claustrophobia because the bedlam occurred in a ranch house in the woods. The hysterics in “Prey at Night” are not confined to one house. Instead, the pandemonium rages within an isolated trailer park where only the manager and his wife remain during the off-season. Ostensibly, the two movies take place after dark, and the predators eventually sabotage all means of communication. As slick as Johannes Roberts’ direction is, “Prey for Night” amounts to a lukewarm, standard-issue, 1980s slasher saga. Bits and pieces of the storyline—not the body parts of its slain victims—have been tweaked sufficiently to make it its 85-minute running time tolerable.
In “The “Strangers,” Kristen and James had just gotten home after attending a wedding. Clearly, they were amorous couple, but they had not set a date for their own wedding. “The Strangers: Prey at Night” deals with a family in turmoil. Cindy (Christina Hendricks of “The Neon Demon”) and her husband Mike (Martin Henderson of “Windtalkers”) are driving their problem child daughter, Kinsey (Bailee Madison of “Just Go with It”), to a boarding school. Kinsey has a rebellious streak a mile wide. She wears Goth girl make-up and smokes cigarettes without inhaling them. All of Kinsey’s girlfriends skip school and participate in activities just as onerous as she did, but their parents haven’t punished them. Cindy tells her defiant daughter she wishes that her mother could have confronted her problem as she has Kinsey’s. Mike loads up the mini-van, and they pick up Kinsey’s older brother, Luke (Lewis Pullman of “Battle of the Sexes”), who has been playing baseball with his pals. Naturally, Kinsey and Mike annoy each other during the journey. Although the family fell behind their scheduled departure, Cindy has left a telephone message for Uncle Marvin at Gatlin Lake Trailer Park that they will be arriving late. We the audience already suspect this family is headed for an ill-fated rendezvous because the three murderers —the Man in Burlap Mask (Damian Maffei of “Nikos the Impaler,” Dollface (newcomer Emma Bellomy), and Pin-Up Girl (newcomer Lea Enslin)—have broken in on Uncle Marvin and Aunt Sheryl and relieved them off all their worldly anxieties. Interestingly, this older couple slept with a dog between them, but the canine cowered rather than attacked.
Predictably, Cindy and family don’t have a clue about their impending doom. They arrive after dark, and Cindy picks up their trailer key from main office. Of course, nobody greets her. No sooner have they settled in than somebody knocked at the door. The knocking itself sound ominous. Cindy opens it to find a girl standing in darkness on the porch. The outside light is not shining, so Cindy cannot see the girl’s face. The girl asks her if Tamara is home. Cindy disappoints her, and she watches the girl leave. Stubborn Kinsey refuses to play cards with Cindy and Mike, and she storms out of the trailer to smoke. Cindy sends Luke after Kinsey. After the sinister prologue, director Johannes Roberts devotes about thirty minutes acquainting audiences with the family. They appear average. The parents are struggling to raise their two children, but one has run off the rails. If a message lurks in “The Strangers: Prey for Night,” could it be: “think twice about sending your daughters to boarding school?” Otherwise, Cindy and Mike seem like a model couple with few flaws.
“The Strangers: Prey for Night” differs from its predecessor because its victims enjoy a greater chance of survival. Meantime, the filmmakers have scrupulously observed the rules of the slasher fest. The masked villains are virtually indestructible. Some can recover from the worst injuries. An older man wearing a burlap bag drives them around in a battered Ford pick-up. He is dressed in a suit and tie. He favors an ax. Something about the way an ax sounds as it is dragged across concrete appeals to him. The two girls prefer kitchen knives. They display no emotions whatsoever when they maim or slaughter their victims. The masked dastards in “The Strangers” behaved in similar fashion. One of Cindy’s family asks her assailant why she is trying to kill her. “Why not?” the girl utters with a dreamy gaze. Not surprisingly, when the stabbing starts, the family goes berserk. They do the usual, foolhardy things victims do. Everything about “The Strangers: Prey for Night” is hackneyed, but the film adheres to the slasher formula with enough style to make it adequate for a rental.