It is a rare feat that a sequel outdoes the original, but we have seen it happen a few times. The two franchises that always come to my mind when we talk about sequels surpassing their predecessor are The Godfather, and in the horror category, The Purge. After re-watching The Strangers, then catching up with the newly released trailer for its sequel, I think we are looking at one of these rare phenomena. Before we get to The Strangers: Prey at Night, I think we need to break down the film that made it possible.

First of all, The Strangers was not some under the radar film, though a lot of people may have never seen it. It came out around the same time as Vacancy and many other movies with plots that were similar enough to be non-distinguishable in a trailer. The film only cost an estimated $9 million to make and raked in over $80 million worldwide, so by Hollywood standards this was a smashing success. Still, if you ask somebody today what they thought of the film, they would probably have to think hard about whether they have ever seen it.

Universal Pictures

On the surface, The Strangers did everything right: they got Liv Tyler, who was big at the time, and Scott Speedman, though this is not the type of movie that plays to his normal demographic. They play a couple who are still ostensibly in love, although she has apparently just turned down his marriage proposal. In fact, the introduction of the first of three antagonists in this picture comes at a time of impromptu hanky-panky between the main characters; something that likely wouldn’t happen after a real-world proposal rejection.

This dynamic is meant to make the characters seemed damaged, ergo making them feel more real, but it has the opposite effect on the viewer. Not only does the confusion fill you with questions that have nothing to do with the coming terror, but it also makes you wonder why you emotionally invest in characters that are not even emotionally invested in each other. This all sets the backdrop for a run of the mill horror-thriller that relies more on its premise than it does on its filmmaking.

The two not-so-love birds are holed up in a cabin in the woods which was supposed to be their celebratory shag shack. While the couple tries to figure out how their relationship will move forward from the shake-up, they get a knock at the door. A shadowed woman asks if Tamara is home. When they tell her she has the wrong house, she leaves. Little do they know that this was a simple ruse to ensure there were residents in the home. The following hour shows the antagonists toying with and terrorizing the occupants of the home like cats playing with their food. While I don’t love this movie, I have to say that they did a fantastic job at creating some suspenseful scenes which draw you into the film, always forcing you to focus just as much on the background of the scene as you are on the foreground.

What irked me about the original The Strangers is how it was marketed as “based on true events,” a marketing ploy that movies like this have run into the ground. The “true events” that the film is based on were a combination of the Manson Murders and a string of robberies that took place in the writer’s neighborhood when he was a child. The latter inspired the, “Is Tamara home?” scene and nothing more, and saying the rest of the story is based on the Manson Murders is like saying that Jason Voorhees is based on John Wayne Gacy because they both covered their faces. If it weren’t for this reason alone, I would have probably looked at this film in a much better light. That said, they dropped all the pageantry for the sequel, and it looks superb.

Not being a super-fan of the first film, I was rather apathetic to watching the trailer for the sequel. Still, my inner horror fan got the best of me, and I’m glad it did because this trailer was a pleasant surprise. I’m not going to put my full faith in it because I’m afraid they put all of the best scenes in the trailer, and they still managed to slip in the “based on true events,” line. When you break down the trailer though, it is hard to argue that this isn’t going to be a killer movie.

You won’t find a cast of “never-heard-of”s here. The film stars Christina Hendricks of Mad Men, Martin Henderson who many would recognize as Dr. Riggs from Grey’s Anatomy, but I remember as Noah in The Ring, and Bailee Madison who is no stranger to the horror genre starring in the highly underrated Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark as well as an Episode of R.L. Stein’s The Haunting Hour early in her career. They did not get any of the original actors who played the antagonists back but, luckily, limited dialogue and masked faces make that fact nonconsequential.

Instead of a couple on the verge of a break up, the protagonists in this film seem to be a tight-knit family of four who is vacationing in a trailer park hotel complex of sorts. The preview makes multiple mentions about the fact that the family is the only one there and that they are “all alone” in the first forty seconds or so. We do catch a link to the first movie when the family receives a knock at the door from a shadowed woman asking, “Is Tamara here?” From the looks of the trailer, that is where this movie starts branching off from its predecessor.

Aviron Pictures

The Strangers: Prey at Night looks so much better than the original. It may start slow like the first one, but I don’t think there is going to be too much build up in this film. It looks like this is going to be a knockdown, drag-out slugfest, and while most of the family probably won’t make it out alive, I am guessing that not all of The Strangers make it out of this one breathing, either. After watching this trailer repeatedly, I have to say that I got a little more excited about it each time I watched it. After studying the scenes in this preview, I have a feeling that The Strangers franchise – to quote the best scene in the trailer – is “just getting started.”

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By Arthur Thares

Arthur Thares is a professional writer, avid horror fan, and the go to guy when you want a good movie recommendation. If you can name it he has most likely seen it...twice. When he is not watching horror or putting words on paper he enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters in his Minnesota estate.