The Strangers: Prey at Night – Fear Is Real

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It invokes a horrific, inevitable and unreasoning psychological fear that makes the film scary.

An ordinary, gripe-filled family excursion soon becomes their worst nightmare come to life when three eerily disguised assailants emerge from the darkness to indiscriminately terrorize unsuspecting, innocent individuals going about their business in The Strangers: Prey at Night.

The Strangers: Prey at Night is inspired by Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers, from ten years ago, with Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman,” explains director Johannes Roberts, who directed the film from a screenplay by Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai.

“I’m a huge fan of the first movie and what Bryan did as a director.  With this film, the movie centers on a family bringing their daughter to boarding school.  It is a family struggling to connect and on the verge of falling apart.  On their journey, they stop-off at trailer park to stay overnight.  As they begin to settle in for the night, a menacing presence appears in the form of three masked strangers, who intend to hunt and lethally harm them one-by-one, and now the family must rely on each other to survive.  It is pretty dark and gruesome.”

Similar to the original film, the central characters in The Strangers: Prey at Night are more than a plot device for blood and gore.  “The original film, The Strangers, differentiated itself from the typical home invasion movie by building a relationship between the characters which made it more effective when the frightening intruders arrive to terrorize them,” says producer James Harris.  “With this film, we, again, wanted the audience to care about the characters upfront because if they are not invested in the characters, then they don’t care if these characters die, and that’s an important element to heightening the suspense and experiencing the fear.”

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In addition to creating characters with a compelling emotional journey to build the fear, having three disguised antagonists stalking and slaying unwitting victims at random is the crucial component that drives the terror.  “With this film, I didn’t want to rely upon jump scares to get the audience to react,” explains Roberts.  “I didn’t want someone to come out of the dark when you least expect it and go ‘Boo’ and the audience jumps.  Jump scares can be cool and fun, but this isn’t that movie.  This is a movie about dread and atmosphere.”

“The audience sees the strangers before our characters do, and they’re just there,” continues Roberts.  “When the characters come face-to-face with these terrifying assailants who just want to kill them, it invokes a horrific, inevitable and unreasoning psychological fear that makes the film scary.”

And the randomness by which these strangers choose their targets also increases the fear because no one is safe.  “I think what’s interesting about the strangers is that they are always trying to play with the protagonists,” says Harris.  “The fear of having three people, who you don’t even know, doing something for no motive whatsoever, essentially committing a pointless horrific act is terrifying to people because it means no one is chosen for a reason.  It’s just about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And that plays into people’s fears.”

Although the two films share a similar approach to their central characters and both feature the strangers, where they diverge is in the setting and action.  “The Strangers: Prey at Night is a bigger film with more scale,” explains Harris.  “We took the same villains from the first one and placed them in a scenario involving an entire family who is still dealing with similar challenges that the characters in the first film dealt with.  And instead of interior setting, this story occurs outside in a trailer park with more stunts, action and logistical issues.”

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JOHANNES ROBERTS (Director) directed his first feature film straight out of university at the age of 22. Self-funded for £5k, the film, Sanitarium, sold around the world. For the next five years, Roberts learned his craft making low budget horror movies for DVD, including the cult movie Forest of the Damned staring Tom Savini and the world’s first series made for cell phones When Evil Calls. In 2010, Roberts wrote and directed the thriller F – a story of a group of teachers under attack by a group of pupils in a college after hours. Made for only £150k and shot on location in a school just outside Cambridge with a crew of mainly students, the film was picked up by Studio Canal and released theatrically in the UK to critical acclaim, with many citing the use of parkour in the film as revolutionary. Roberts then directed Oscar-nominated actor Stephen Rea in the television movie “Roadkill” for NBC before helming the science fiction thriller Storage 24 for Universal. Written by and starring BAFTA-winning actor Noel Clarke, the movie was lauded for its innovative use of award-winning practical creature effects. Roberts then wrote and directed the ghost story The Other Side of the Door. Filmed entirely in Mumbai and starring Sarah Wayne Callies and Jeremy Sisto, it became Roberts’ first international cinema release and grossed over $15 million, becoming one of Fox International’s most commercially successful movies of all time.

In 2016, Roberts wrote and directed the underwater thriller 47 Meters Down, the first fiction drama movie to be filmed almost entirely underwater. In a truly unprecedented twist of fate, the film was just days away from a DVD release – with copies even out in some Target and Walmart stores – when it was bought from Dimension by Entertainment Studios, who released the movie theatrically. The movie went on to earn $65 million off a budget of only $5 million and become the most successful independent movie of 2017. Having finished The Strangers: Prey at Night, Roberts is now in pre-production on 13 O’Clock and developing 48 Meters Down and the Stephen King novella Heart in Atlantis.

In making The Strangers: Prey at Night, Roberts employed elements of classic horror films from the seventies and eighties.  “Cinematically, I wanted this film to fit into the world of The Strangers, but I wanted a more retro and darker feel to this,” explains Roberts.  “I’m a massive John Carpenter fan and his film Christine is very much an influence for me on this movie.  Essentially, the pallet for The Strangers: Prey at Night is a mixture of John Carpenter’s films and other classic horror movies such as Duel, Don’t Look Now, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  All of these films I drew upon, in one way or another, as inspiration for The Strangers: Prey at Night. It wears its influences openly and proudly, and it’s definitely a movie from the heart.”

The element that influenced Roberts the most is the strange car from Christine, with a mind of its own, and having a terrifying truck in this film played prominently in director’s decision to helm The Strangers: Prey at Night.  “The thing that drew me to this movie was the truck.  It is like a character in the movie,” says Roberts.  “I’ve put a lot emphasis on the truck to add to the drama.  In placing one of the strangers behind the wheel, the truck, itself, comes alive and seems as if it is stalking and trying to kill the family as well.”

With the success of the original film and its massive appeal to horror fans, the filmmakers had little difficulty in finding the perfect cast to portray the terrorized family.  “The cast on The Strangers: Prey at Night is phenomenal. We got super lucky,” says Roberts.  “Christina Hendricks was the first to sign on.  She was a huge fan of the first movie, and she threw herself into the role of Cindy, the matriarch of the family.

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To invoke the fear that her character experiences, Hendricks chose to be in the moment and let the scene unfold.  “There have been some moments on set that have been scary,” states Hendricks.  “Of course, anyone who is a fan of the first one knows the famous scene when one of the strangers knocks on the door and says, ‘Hi!  Is Tamara there?’ which just makes my skin crawl.  So, we have our own version of that moment and in rehearsal I got giddy and excited to do it.”

“But, I’m going to be honest. I haven’t read the whole script, which I’ve never done before on a project,” continues Hendricks.  “I’m such a fan of the original that I want to experience the fear first hand in the same way the audience would as they watch the film.  Besides, I don’t know how much you can prepare for these types of scenes.  You just have to be in the moment as much as possible and go there.”

Aside from letting the scene play out, Hendricks found the film’s premise in and of itself to be terrifying.  “The thing that frightens me the most is that no one knows who the strangers are, and there isn’t any rhyme or reason for doing what they do – that’s what’s scary.  It’s something that’s done on a whim and without purpose that makes it even scarier than someone who actually sits down and plans to end a life.”

From personal experience, Hendricks knows the fear that emerges when a stranger invades one’s dwelling.  “I have had moments in my life where someone was trying to break into my house while I was there and it was terrifying,” recalls Hendricks.  “You know the sounds of your house, when all of a sudden you hear something that shouldn’t be there.  And that feeling of seeing a silhouette of someone in a window is very terrifying.  I think that’s why this movie scares me so deeply because I’m afraid of just normal people deciding to mess with you.  It’s not a God/Devil thing.  It’s not a space creature.  It’s not supernatural.  It’s literally someone coming over to f**k with you. That’s what I’m scared of.”

Bailee Madison plays Hendricks’s rebellious teenage daughter, Kinsey, who is struggling to find her way in the world.

From the moment Madison read the script, she knew that this was the type of horror film that she longed to be a part of given its emphasis on the human component before the terror.  “I’ve read a lot of horror scripts prior to this one, where the characters are thrown into very inhumane, awful environments, and the humanity is lost making it hard to feel for them,” says Madison.  “And what The Strangers: Prey at Night does so well is that from the moment the film picks up you are thrown into the lives of these people and you are fighting just as hard as they are.  That’s the kind of horror film that grabs me and gets to me, which is why I love this project so much and wanted to be a part of it.”

Doing this film also gave Madison an opportunity to confront her worst fears.  “Filming The Strangers: Prey at Night has been petrifying for me,” remarks Madison.  “It’s so scary. I hate people in masks.  I can’t do Halloween horror nights.  I can’t do the scare jumps.  I can’t do the mazes.  I sob through the whole theme park, covering my eyes.  When I signed on to do this, a couple of my friends said to me, ‘You realize you just signed on for your biggest fear right?  This is your worst nightmare thrown into one huge package.’  I said, ‘Yea, I’m ready to tackle this.’  But the first time I saw The Man in the Mask, Pinup, and Dollface, I went ghost white.  I was actually rude to them, too, because I was so scared.”

However, being surrounded by the things that petrify her the most, Madison still managed to find the fun in making a horror film.

Playing opposite of Madison is Lewis Pullman as Luke, the golden child older brother of Kinsey.

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For Pullman, the trailer park set is just as frightening as the villains themselves.  “There have been a plethora of instances where I have been terrified on this set.  The set is truly eerie and almost of a character within itself.  Ryan Samul, the DP, really lit the hell out of it and made it this sort of terrifyingly beautiful playground for the strangers,” says the actor.  “The shadows are extra dark and the light is extra light.  With that contrast comes a lot of mystery and I think it’s that in-between, that almost purgatory-like feeling of the park, that really captures the essence of the strangers.”

Pullman admits he was not initially a fan of the horror genre, which is linked to him sneaking in a viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds at what was probably too young an age. “But then I got to an age where I was like, ‘I might have to revisit this, because I have a feeling I am depriving myself of a world of awesome,’ and then I kind of became obsessed with it,” he remembers. “That’s why I was so excited when I read the script for The Strangers: Prey at Night and I thought ‘oh my gosh, I might get to be a part of this world of awesome.’”

While reading the script, Pullman recalled when he first watched The Strangers with his dad. “We don’t watch scary movies together that much,” he explains. “We couldn’t stop talking during the movie, continually interrupting saying things like, ‘I would have done something different. I would have grabbed the knife and done this or that.’ We were clearly just breaking the tension in how scared we were because it’s an incredibly well-done horror movie.

Portraying Mike, the steadfast patriarch of the family is Martin Henderson.

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Henderson was intrigued about the family drama in this film that begins with two parents taking their daughter to boarding school.  “We band together for one last weekend as we take her away, so at the beginning of the film there is a lot of tension within the family,” he says.  “We spend the night in a trailer park just close to where we’ll be delivering our daughter the next morning, and shortly after settling into our trailer, things start getting a little odd, and then a bit of horror ensues as we’re sort of systematically hunted down by these masked strangers that come out of nowhere, with no identity, as they’re intent on killing us all.”

After starring in very successful horror film The Ring, Henderson appreciated that The Strangers: Prey at Night centers on a different type of antagonist.  “I think what struck me was just how airy the atmosphere was after the first kill where you see there’s nothing personal about this at all.  It’s purely the strangers’ joy of taking another’s life and witnessing that almost passively, without menace, without celebration, without any sort of revenge or anything personal, which I found horrifying,” states the actor.  “I don’t see a lot of horror movies, so this was the first film of its kind that I’ve read in years and I was shocked.  It’s got some twists to it and there’s something so shocking – and obviously violent – but something surprising about each kill, the way it happens and the pointlessness of it.”

It’s the lack of motive that frightens Henderson most about the strangers.  “There doesn’t seem to be any feasible theory as to why the strangers are doing what they’re doing.  I think that’s part of what makes the movie so terrifying, that it’s impersonal.  There’s no rhyme or reason.  There’s nothing personal in it, other than the desire to kill,” he says.  “And because we never get to know them as characters, we don’t understand their reasons why.  I think it’s that total ambiguity and the unanswered component to the movie that makes it so terrifying.  It’s so senseless and you realize these characters are just at the mercy of something they didn’t even create.”