'The Strangers: Prey at Night': Film Review

Twice the victims, half the scares.

A family is terrorized by three masked home invaders in this sequel to the 2008 horror film hit.

Take the 2008 horror film The Strangers, add two more potential victims and you essentially have its long-belated, completely unnecessary sequel. Replicating the tropes of its predecessor to a slavish degree, The Strangers: Prey at Night pretty much wastes all its inspiration on its punning title. It's as rudimentary as slasher films go, and although it may not be fair to make the comparison, that will no longer cut it after Get Out proved that the horror genre is capable of a lot more than mechanically depicting people getting stabbed to death.

The first film at least showcased a claustrophobic intensity with its single setting of a house being invaded by three masked crazies. The sequel dissipates the impact by having its sacrificial lambs, a family of four, getting into trouble at a seemingly abandoned trailer park where they're intending to stay the night. It's a typical family unit, consisting of harried parents Cindy (Christina Hendricks) and Mike (Martin Henderson), their jock son Luke (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill) and surly teenage daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison), who naturally doesn't stop complaining or looking at her phone.

The mundane setup is merely a prelude to the main event, which, as with the first film, begins when a young woman knocks on the door and asks for someone who isn't there. Seems innocent enough, until she does the same thing a few minutes later. As Scooby Doo would say, "Ruh roh!"

When the teenagers take a late-night walk around the deserted environs, as kids are prone to do in slasher films, they enter an abandoned trailer and discover a dead body. They immediately head back to their folks who, much to the audience's derision, decide that now would be a perfect time to split up. Mike and Luke set out to investigate the situation — sans weapons or cellphones, natch — while Cindy and Kinsey go back into their trailer only to discover that all of their phones have been destroyed.

That's when the perfunctory hell breaks loose, as the family members find themselves besieged by the same anonymous masked strangers who terrorized Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler 10 years ago. The murderous trio — Dollface, Pin-Up Girl and The Man in the Mask — don't say very much. But they carry some very large knives. As if to make up for their lack of personality.

Director Johannes Roberts, who scored a surprise hit with last year's low-budget shark thriller 47 Meters Down, stages the violent mayhem with proficiency but little stylistic flair. Several characters get dispatched, or nearly dispatched, in an order inversely proportional to their likeability. Suffice it to say that Hendricks, who at this point in her career truly deserves better material than this, may not have stuck around the set long enough to enjoy craft services.

This is the sort of exasperating horror pic that whips audiences into a frenzy. Not because they're having fun, mind you, but rather because the characters behave so stupidly and self-destructively that yelling profanity-laden advice to the screen becomes a bonding exercise.

The dialogue is risible, rarely rising above the level of, say, "Leave us alone!" Screenwriters Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai (the former wrote and directed the original) nod to the film's predecessor in numerous ways. Those who recall the most chilling line from The Strangers, "Because you're home," will appreciate this one's equally punchy rejoinder, "Why not?" And fans of 1980s horror flicks, which this film closely resembles, will enjoy the ironic use of the classic power ballads "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Making Love Out of Nothing at All." Both songs were written by Jim Steinman, so he, if not audiences, will have something to cheer about.

Production companies: Fyzz Facility, White Comet Films, Rogue Pictures, Bloom
Distributor: Aviron Pictures
Cast: Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Bailee Madison, Lewis Pullman, Damian Maffei
Director: Johannes Roberts
Screenwriters: Bryan Bertino, Ben Katai
Producers: James Harris, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Mark Lane, Robert Jones, Ryan Kavanaugh
Executive producers: Trevor Macy, Bryan Bertino, David Dinerstein, Jason Resnick, William Sadleir, Alex Walton, Alastair Burlingham, Charlie Dombek, Ken Halsband, Brett Dahl, Jon D. Wagner
Director of photography: Ryan Samul
Production designer: Freddy Waff
Editor: Martin Brinkler
Composer: Adrian Johnston
Costume designer: Carla Shivener
Casting: Lauren Grey

Rated R, 85 minutes