The Strangers: Prey at Night film review: Nothing remotely original about this horror sequel

Shocker: Johannes Roberts' film relies too heavily on tired '80s horror tricks: B Douglas/Aviron Pictures/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Shocker: Johannes Roberts' film relies too heavily on tired '80s horror tricks: B Douglas/Aviron Pictures/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Christina Hendricks from TV’s Mad Men stars as Cindy, the mum who goes on a very ill-advised trip to a trailer park, in this strictly by-the-numbers horror picture. She and her husband Mike (Martin Henderson) are spending money they can ill afford, sending their brattish teenage daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) to boarding school. They want to spend “quality” time with her before she leaves home. Their equally brattish, baseball-obsessed, teenage son Luke (Lewis Pullman) has very reluctantly joined the trip. It is already after Labor Day and out of season. The trailer park, run by their aunt and uncle, is all but deserted apart from the sinister looking young woman who emerges from the shadows to knock on their door, asking to see “Tamara”.

“That girl weirded me out,” Cindy exclaims, hinting at the terrors that are about to unfold.

Director Johannes Roberts builds up the tension slowly. We hear the mandatory creaks in the dark when Lewis and Kinsey stop by another trailer. At first, they think it’s just a dog but then, almost 30 minutes into the movie, they see the first corpses. From there, the terror mounts.

Nothing here is remotely original. The characters and the plot could have been borrowed wholesale from any number of straight to video horror pictures from the 1980s. A difference here is that instead of Freddie Krueger or Leatherface, the first knife-wielding killer we see is a woman with long blonde hair wearing a doll’s mask. “Leave us alone,” Hendricks shrieks at the aggressor, advice which is roundly ignored. There is lots of heavy breathing, screaming, crashing glass, smashed windscreens, blaring horns and portentous music as the slaughter begins in earnest. The killers make smiley faces on the bathroom mirror with one victim’s blood. At one stage, we see a jack in the box.

This is very murky storytelling. As the title hints, most of the action unfolds in the dark. It goes without saying that the characters never have their phones with them when they need them or can’t get a connection when they do. Cops and ambulances are nowhere to be seen. One of the murderous, masked maniacs takes time out to listen to some nostalgic rock music before the carnage resumes. Quite why the killers are targeting the family (“why not” is the only explanation they give), or indeed why the family has chosen such a benighted place for a family holiday, is never explained. One small positive is that the bickering brother and sister come closer together as they fight to stay alive. The filmmakers show basic competence when it comes to giving the audience some old-fashioned shock treatment. You can’t help but admire the killers’ persistence. Burned, stabbed or shot, they just keep on coming back.