The first entry the Strangers franchise hit the big screen almost 10 years ago. The film may not have set the box office on fire, but the premise and concept was interesting enough to keep the fading slasher genre alive for a little bit longer. Now, the sequel has arrived to bring us more senseless, random acts of violence from faceless antagonists. The question is, are audiences ready to embrace the belated follow-up? Or after a decade, will it be left dead in the water?
The story kicks off with a troubled family embarking on a road trip, to spend time together before their rebellious daughter, Kinsey, leaves for boarding school after a series of dangerous and worrisome acts of (presumed) law-breaking. Soon after arriving at their aunt and uncles trailer park, they are subjected to violent and aggressive torment from a group of strangers. While this premise is sound enough to begin the film, its execution is hollow and indolent. The broad strokes of this family's history are made painfully obvious for the viewer to see. But, we are never given any further insight into the inner workings of our so-called protagonists. We are left questioning everything from the absence of common sense and logic, to what Kinsey actually did to warrant being sent away.
Another minor disappointment is the absence of the original films lead, Liv Tyler. The former Lord of the Rings star was a highlight in an otherwise passable horror flick. Although, with even less of a narrative hook for audiences to grasp, it's not difficult to see why the talented actress decided to pass up another round with the strangers. Instead, Kinsey (Bailee Madison) and her brother Luke (Lewis Pullman, son of the legendary Bill Pullman) take centre stage as the likable, but transparent pair of polar opposite siblings. Shortly after the actions begins it becomes incredibly obvious that, despite being relative newcomers, both young actors deserve better material to work with at this early stage in their careers. Christina Henricks (Mad Men) and Martin Henderson (Greys Anatomy) play the good cop/bad cop duo of cardboard cut-out parents, that rarely divert from their established cliches. Fortunately for these stars, they are put out of their misery relatively quickly.
Visually, the directorial baton is passed down from Bryan Bertino to horror veteran Johannes Roberts ( F, Storage 24 , The Other Side of the Door, 47 Metres Down) this time round. While his work is more than competent, the scares feel as if they have been recycled from an old Friday the 13th sequel. By spending the majority of its run time relying on jump scares, and ominous music, the film offers nothing new for the horror genre. This is largely the fault of the script however, rather than Roberts' abilities behind the camera. Despite this, there are more than a few moments of cliche that can be passed off as pastiche. Audience members willing to give it the benefit of the doubt will definitely find some enjoyment in an overtly obvious reference to 1974's Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The Strangers: Prey at Night leaves a lot to be desired for horror fans looking for their slasher fix. This half-hearted attempt at launching a franchise leaves more questions than answers, in the worst possible way. For some it may provide a short burst of easy entertainment for an hour and a half, but this will require expectations to be lowered significantly. The two leads deliver impressive performances, despite being heavily limited by their material. But, in age of Get Out and A Quiet Place, viewers (rightfully) expect much more from Horror now. If the Strangers somehow find a way to return, then they will have to take a stab at something much more original to cut it with modern audiences.