By Fergus McGillivray (Los Angeles, CA, US)
The home invasion subgenre occasionally produces something watchable as The Strangers (2008) demonstrated. Though far from perfect, its scares were enough to keep faces stuffed with popcorn and butts firmly planted. Even if The Strangers: Prey at Night were a good film, an exhausting decade full of imitators ranging from silly and gory to “what?” paves a rocky road for the very-late sequel. Unfortunately, The Strangers 2 is not a good film. It’s a chore, at best.
We’re introduced to a family of four, (the perfect number to kill off in 80 min) about to depart on one last vacation before Luke (Lewis Pullman) goes off to college and young teen Kinsey (Bailee Madison) goes off to…boarding school? Kinsey is a “problem child” and her mother Cindy (a perpetually mortified Christina Hendricks) thinks it best to respond to Kinsey’s skipped classes by banishing her from the household. Plus, both kids out of the house will allow the parents to “do it on the table,” as Cindy’s husband Mike (Martin Henderson) notes, demonstrating the full extent of his character’s complexity. To the credit of director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down), little more than an obligatory ten minutes is spent on the setup, but in terms of brutality, the subsequent killings pale in comparison to those ten minutes.
The group arrives at its destination to find the lakeside trailer park deserted and unreasonably foggy, and the mobile-home invasion quickly commences. The first casualty is logic, followed closely by dignity – both the film’s and the viewers’. It soon becomes clear that the film was never intended to bring anything new to the genre, except maybe Roberts’ edgy, stylized blue lighting that periodically pokes through the incessant mist, but even that seems familiar. Every chase, every wound, every instance where the killer purposefully prolongs the chase and lets the victim temporarily get away is telegraphed, programmed from the start. As far as the scares go (not very far at all), The Strangers 2 seems determined to stay as comfortably within the formula of the barely feature-length, inexpensive, and unimpressive horror film aiming for an opening weekend box office profit before the Rotten Tomatoes score gets around. Boring, desperate jump-scare attempts accompany Kinsey’s nonstop shrieking and whining for an hour until the film finally puts us out of our misery.
While the first Strangers capitalized on a fearful American culture with a fresh-enough take on the ‘killer-with-no-motive/anyone could be a threat’ idea, its follow-up tries and fails to do the same, complete with a corny “based on true events” opening text. Strangers 2 is neither inspired nor imaginative and feels bereft of the unwavering pessimism that made its predecessor so frightening and effective. The sequel mixes what should be truly disturbing situations with what can only be assumed to be intentional camp – an attempt at the “it’s so bad it’s good” designation as absolution for its countless flaws. The resulting crude amalgam of extreme violence and stupid “fun” only further reveals the film’s identity crisis in the shadow of the original. By the time we finally arrive at the inevitable “why are you doing this?” the subsequent “why not?” is easily answerable: a LOT of reasons why not.