We need to quit the knee-jerk hatred towards sequels; recent follow-ups like Ouija: Origin of Evil, The Conjuring 2, and Annabelle: Creation prove that creative ideas and talented directors can exceed expectations set by an original.
But we can’t give sequels a free pass to be mediocre either. For example, the response to the follow-up to Bryan Bertino’s home invasion masterpiece, The Strangers: Prey at Night, recently debuted to extremely mixed reviews. Pessimists bemoan, “What did you expect? Most sequels are unabashed cash-grabs!” In the case of The Strangers, I expected a lot more.
Fans of the 2008 shocker have been clamoring for a sequel for years, but no one wanted the wait to end with the unceremonious dispatches of some of the 21st Century’s most iconic new villains. I’m talking about the titular Strangers themselves, the murderous trio dubbed Dollface, Pin-Up, and The Man in the Mask.
While attempts to give characters like Michael Myers and Leatherface backstories have backfired by turning manifestations of evil into melodramatic anti-heroes (thus demystified and deflating their sources of terror), such an endeavor isn’t always a liability. In the case of Prey at Night, it should have been considered a necessity. The first Strangers concluded with hints that Dollface was conflicted; simultaneously, the juxtaposition of Mormon missionaries hinted at cultish motivations (beyond the infliction of random acts of violence).
While the unknown was key to the terror of The Strangers, it was a one trick pony; the franchise could only flourish with an expansion of the implied mythology created in 2008. Of course, Prey director Johannes Roberts’ decision to assassinate these compelling masked invaders proves he really had no intention of turning Bertino’s original into a franchise, something that left me feeling extremely disheartened.
And I’m not the only one; among the lambasts of fans and critics comes a vocal response from the original Man in the Mask, Kip Weeks (replaced by Damian Maffei in Prey). I caught up with him after he chimed in on a negative review in Variety. And lest you think it’s a case of sour grapes, I wouldn’t be sharing his insights if I didn’t agree fully.
Dread Central: We were all bummed the original Strangers actors weren’t recast. Now that Prey at Night has premiered to mostly negative reviews, can we get your thoughts? Specifically, why does Prey fail where the original Strangers succeeded?
Kip Weeks: I had a long back and forth with one of the producers. I told him, “You destroyed an art form.”
DC: Did you give him any specifics?
KP: I told him: “You have no idea what it means to create a character from its core. You made a piece of shit, jump scare movie without realizing you had gold in your hands.”
DC: What should the producers have done differently?
KP: They could have made a movie about “The Strangers”: where they came from and why they became killers. Instead, they made it about some bullshit family and wasted Christina Hendricks’ acting skills. The fans wanted depth and story and honesty. They gave them shit.