The home invasion thriller, once a sparsely populated sub-genre, has proliferated in the 21st century, perhaps reflecting our growing fear (note the simultaneous rise of the cyber-thriller) that there’s no place the evils of the world can’t reach us.
Or maybe they’re just cheap to make.
Whatever the case, “The Strangers” (2008) was one of the better ones, not to mention quite profitable, so it’s surprising that it took a decade to conjure a sequel. Less surprising is that the followup, randomly titled “The Strangers: Prey at Night” and featuring a new director, writer, and cast, is a step down in quality, though still not without its slasher-y pleasures.
Our victims this time are a family of four — Mom (Christina Hendricks), Dad (Martin Henderson), high school senior Luke (Lewis Pullman), and troubled junior Kinsey (Bailee Madison) — headed for Kinsey’s new boarding school but stopping for the night at Uncle Marv’s lakeside trailer park. The place is abandoned (it’s the off-season) and there’s a misty fog in the air, making it a perfect murder factory.
We actually don’t spend much time in their trailer, as the trio of masked youths who beset them draw them out into the open, into other trailers, to the camp’s playground and swimming pool. The action doesn’t feel claustrophobic, then, but it does feel small, with only the four family members and their three tormentors in the mix, none of them compelling as characters. Director Johannes Roberts (“47 Meters Down”) does get the jump on us a few times, though, as he scrolls down the slasher checklist. (Potential savior who arrives just in time to also be killed? Check…)
The killers are menacing — but it’s their masks doing most of the work, if we’re being honest. There’s no story here, no subtext. The first film’s chilling conclusion was the revelation of the killers’ motive for striking that particular family: “Because you were home.” Randomly, in other words; for the giggles. That motive is reiterated here (I guess these are the same killers?), but it loses its power the second time around. That’s the risk of making a film about violence that is explicitly said to be pointless: the film might seem kind of pointless, too.
C (1 hr., 25 min.; )