‘STRANGERS’ sequel breaks genre conventions by allowing its victims to fight back

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

At this point, we pretty much know what to expect with every scenario tossed our way from the slasher genre: A killer chases a defenseless victim around, and more often than not, that victim meets the grim reaper by the end.

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT, a sequel to the 2008 film starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, is not like most horror films of its kind. It contains many of the same components you’ve come to recognize, but the order they’re shown and how they’re revealed are completely different.

Bailee Madison. Courtesy of Tiziano Lugli.

And it all begins with the character Kinsey, played by 18-year-old actress Bailee Madison (the GOOD WITCH series).

In PREY AT NIGHT, Kinsey is a teenager who is on the family trip from hell with her mother (Christina Hendricks), father (Martin Henderson) and older brother (Lewis Pullman). At the peak of their dysfunction (they’re taking Kinsey to a boarding school because of her rebellious tendencies), the family stops at a remote mobile home park to visit relatives. However, they meet three masked killers with knives on the hunt for new prey instead.

“I’ve read a lot of horror scripts, but this one really spoke to me. I just sat there and was so disturbed and invested,” Madison said by phone. “It really stays with you after it’s over. It taps into your greatest fears, because a home should feel safe and secure. And when you’re fighting for your life with a stranger – it’s terrifying.”

There is no questioning that the film’s concept is scary. But considering this is the second installment, it’s unwise to repeat the first film’s formula. It was important to Madison, as well as the filmmakers, to subvert expectations and not disregard the audience’s intelligence.

Bailee Madison as Kinsey in ‘THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT.’ Courtesy photo.

“It was one of the things that made me love the project so much, because it changes the way horror scenarios usually go. From the moment [the strangers] knock on the door, one of the first things that happens flips you on your head. I was not expecting that to happen,” Madison said. “It was a fun way to play with audiences. I think it’s about time we show characters who fight back and who aren’t portrayed as dumb. You want to believe they are trying to survive and trying to save the people they love.”

Madison brings up a valid point. How many FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels have you seen where victims are killed just as fast as they step on screen? It’s the horror genre, and in most cases, these characters are doomed from the start. The thrill of the chase can be fun, but it’s much more gratifying when a character fights back and doesn’t make as many irrational decisions.

“That’s what you hope you would do in real life: fight against all odds. You may not make it out alive, but you screamed, you cried and fought to let audiences know you gave it everything. You don’t want to just scare your audience; you want them to be invested. So, for me, that was a great story to tell.”

There are quite a few stunts that Madison had to do to instill this feeling. Her character, Kinsey, steps up and makes it challenging for the merciless killers. Let’s just say one scene with a shotgun supports this.

“I wanted it to look like I was really on the ground, doing the stunts and getting my hands dirty,” Madison said. “[To accomplish this palpability] I was very cautious to not have a relationship with [the actors behind the masks]. I didn’t want them to get to this place where they thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want to kick her too hard.’ But by week three, I was sitting in a chair, covered in blood, asking them, ‘So how’s your wife? How are your kids?’ At that point, you just have to let it go.”

Madison brings a lot of gravitas to PREY AT NIGHT, and it clearly shows. Once you reach the last 20 minutes, she will truly send your heart pumping from the adrenaline and deliver a movie that feels like a stranger to the horror genre.

THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. The special features include an unrated version of the film, a behind-the-scenes look, a music video and two featurettes — one of which is about the family fighting back.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.