The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

9 years after The Strangers first came out, the sequel emerges. It started with actual hype, trailers and posters announcing its release and then it felt like the actual film came and went. Luckily, we caught it as a second feature at the drive-in. It’s a hard role for a second film to live up to the first, particularly when you love a movie so much that you get a tattoo of one of its characters like Becca has. So does the sequel live up to its predecessor?

We open in a trailer park, where The Strangers park their truck, enter a home and proceed to kill off everyone inside. Roll credits. Show based on a true story super.

Mike, Cindy (Christina Hendricks from TV’s Mad Men), Luke (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill) and Kinsey (Bailee Madison, the 2010 remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) are on the road to Kinsey’s boarding school when they stop to stay with Cindy’s Uncle Marvin’s trailer camp along the way.

Arriving late, they are barely settled in when a knock comes at the door and we hear the familiar question: “Is Tamara home?” If you’ve seen the original, you know what happens next. And if you haven’t…

Family drama leads to everyone leaving their phones on the table and Kinsey storming off. Luke follows and as they wander the park, they discover the bodies of their uncle and aunt. They also just randomly let their relatives’ dog run away into the night like it’s not a big deal, which kind of makes me not care what happens to them.

As they run away in fear, they find their parents and decide to get out. But first, Mike wants to see the bodies. You know what? Just go. Just walk away. But nope, he goes and does that while Dollface stabs his wife and Kinsey barely escapes.

Mike and Luke find the body and start searching for Kinsey when Man in the Mask crashes his truck into them. As Luke runs off to get help, the killer gets in the car, cranks the stereo and kills dad with an ice pick. It’s the first welcome bit of true weirdness in what’s been up until now a relatively staid affair.

A massive chase ensues, ending with Like stabbing Pin Up Girl to death and battling Man in the Mask to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Music choice wise, this movie is great. And I find it really interesting that the two most devious, inventive and bloody scenes in the film, this pool sequence and later when Man in the Mask chases Kinsey in a flaming truck, are both scored to Jim Steinman-penned songs (the second is Air Supply’s Making Love Out of Nothing at All.” Both songs were originally written for Meat Loaf’s album “Midnight at the Lost and Found,” but the record label would not pay Steinman for his work. Hence, he turned them into hits for two other artists and thematically, they are so similar that it can’t be a coincidence they were used in this way).

Seriously, it’s not until the pool fight between Luke and Man in the Mask that this movie finds its footing. What follows is pure suspense, as if the film finally felt like anyone left at the party were its true friends and that it was time to embrace the crazy.

The only downside to all this is that Dollface’s answer to the question of why pales in comparison to the original film. And that the ending is pretty much a shot for shot remake of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But how many kids on opening weekend are going to know that? How many have sat through slasher after slasher and miss the early 1980’s summers, knowing that they could be rewarded with a new murder-packed film every Friday?

This was directed by Johannes Roberts (47 Meters DownThe Other Side of the Door) from a script by original writer and director Bryan Bertino. Also of note is that none of The Strangers are portrayed by the original actors. As for that based on true events legend, the movie was inspired by the Manson Family murders of Sharon Tate and her friends, the Keddie Cabin Murders and a series of break-ins that happened in Bertino’s neighborhood while he was growing up.

Some trivia: Before script rewrites, Liv Tyler’s character would return, only to be killed in the beginning. It’s better that she didn’t, as it allows the film to try and stand on its own. That said — if suffers in comparison. The original was a darker, dingier, more deranged affair. We kind of knew from the trailers that we weren’t getting what we wanted from this film, but it does deliver two great scenes, which is probably more than you can ask for these days. Also, as stated above, there are some really great music cues, which shows that at least the filmmakers were thinking! Which, I guess, is more than I can say for the folks that made some of my favorite bottom of the barrel 80’s slashers.

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