It’s been ten long years, but the masked slashers known as The Strangers are finally headed back to theaters in The Strangers: Prey at Night. Despite critical acclaim and box office success, the sequel to Brian Bertino‘s 2008 film languished in development hell for years, even though the script was already on the page. But now, a decade later, the trio of extra-creepy killers are back in action with a revamped take at the hands of 47 Meters Down helmer Johannes Roberts, who’s bringing a retro throwback vibe to the newly-revived horror franchise with his love letter to John Carpenter and horror cinema of the 1970s.
For the sequel, the Strangers get an expanded playground and head to a vacation retreat mobile home park, where a family in crisis stops in for the night and comes face-to-face with the murderous masked madmen. A bitter, isolated teenager about to be shipped off to boarding school (Bailee Madison), her all-American brother (Lewis Pullman), and her weary parents (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) — in the tradition of the first film, they’re already frayed and frazzled when they come up against the Strangers, with underpinning of drama that fuels the horrors about to unfold.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to see Roberts — and Baghead — in action on the set of Prey at Night on a cold night in Kentucky. I’ve been on a lot of horror sets over the years and they’re usually not very scary, but in the quiet dead of night on the freshly constructed, convincingly abandoned mobile home location, nothing but the sound of bugs and the light of fireflies, it was pretty darn easy to let a chill slip up your spine. Especially when you turned the corner to signs of chaos; a minivan crashed into a mobile home, or a big ass truck looming down the road with a masked assailant inside. In addition to getting creeped out, I also spoke with the cast and crew, and learned quite a bit about what to expect from the long-awaited horror sequel. Check out the highlights below.
- The creative team brought in 22 mobile homes and a dozen motorhomes to build the resort from scratch. All that existed before they got there was the roads; they added every structure, lamp post and gravel path to build an immersive, interactive location.
- The property belonged to the airport — they had to buy out the homeowners in order to expand — which means that planes would fly overhead at all hours of the day. Surprisingly this wasn’t a huge impediment for the production team, who learned pretty quickly to time takes around the overhead traffic.
- The location also adds a new dynamic of terror to the film — a sprawling sense of uncertainty around every corner. “In the first movie they were in a house and obviously they couldn’t get in their car because it was there, and there were no landlines,” said Madison. “But we’re dealing with the same situations except we are dropped in a maze of a world where everywhere they turn could be a place that they could be, and there is no way out. Which is almost more terrifying, because you’re in an outdoor space, and you’re not in the comfort of your home, you don’t know things, and you’re not aware where the twists and turns can come.”
For Roberts, that new geography was necessary to avoid repeating the first film, but it also meant he had to avoid becoming too much like a certain other popular horror franchise. “What you don’t want to do is do the original again, badly. So you got to add something to it. But then I think the thing that we’ve been careful for this type of project is, The Purge is kind of The Strangers turbo. So, you have to bring something to it in a different way. There’s no point having 15 strangers running around with machine guns.
- For the sequel script, they didn’t deviate much from the script worked on by Bertino and Ben Ketai (The Forest).
- Madison describes her character, Kinsey, as a serious minded teenager who marches to her own beat and has a strained relationship with her family. “When we first meet her you can tell that she’s very disconnected to her family,” She explained. “But the internal pain that she has is far worse because she wants to be connected, she wants to feel loved, she wants to be the good daughter.”
As for Kinsey’s older brother Luke, Pullman describes his character as an average teenage kid with good intentions who is at his wits end with the family drama. “Luke is definitely, certainly one of the more relatable characters I think because he’s kind of caught in the crosshairs of the turmoil that the audience is catching his family in and he’s constantly trying to be the mediator, almost. But I think the film takes place right at the beginning of where to starts to become almost exhausted by it,” Pullman said. “He’s kind of just a classic American kid who plays baseball and wants to hang out with his friends.
- As for the parents, the mom is the one running the show. Pullman explained, “Cindy is definitely the spear-header of the family, and she has a lot of the control. She’s kind of the puppeteer within there even though at times she finds its out of her hands.”
- And finally, that leaves the dad — a high-spirited man child who shares his son’s frustration with the family squabbles. “Martin’s character is definitely… he’s a little bit of a kid in a grown man’s body,” Pullman said. ” know there are some lines where it’s kind of revealed that they weren’t expecting the job of parenthood to be so difficult. He’s playful, you know? He definitely has more of a childish tendency than Christina’s character. He’s constantly going back and forth between being a father figure and wanting to be a kid with his kids.”
- As for the Strangers themselves, they are… well, they’re strangers, so they’ll still be a mystery, but Pullman says we get to see a lot more of them in action this time around. “It’s definitely a feast when it comes to the Strangers. It’s a lot. you get to know the strangers a little bit more. It’s in no way over-revealing, there’s no overexposure. So you don’t lose that fear of “who are they?” They definitely remain strangers, but you’re given more to start to put together, so in that way it’s definitely a pretty ripe cousin to the first one.”
Remember when I said the set was actually pretty spooky? Both Madison and Pullman said doing their first scene was genuinely scary. “It was awful,” Madison recalled. “Christina Hendricks and I, we actually requested that for the first time that we’re working with one of the Strangers that we didn’t see them until the first take, just because we genuinely wanted to be terrified, and we were.” Pullman’s experience was similar. “I actually got scared. I got legitimately scared,” he said. “I was extremely, extremely, extremely frightened and had to remind myself with all my might, ‘That is somebody I know and not somebody who is about to actually stab me right now.'”