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Set Visit - The Strangers: Prey at Night (Part One: Location, Filming)

LOCATION 

Not far from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport there sits a 56 acre plot of land that was a residential area until sometime in the 1980s. Around 30 years ago, the airport bought the land and razed the houses, leaving behind nothing but the streets that now go nowhere. The land has been empty for a long time, and nature has started to take it back. Wildlife abounds. But for a while in the middle of 2017 the land was once again inhabited, serving as the primary filming location for THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT, 47 METERS DOWN director Johannes Roberts' long-awaited follow-up to Bryan Bertino's 2008 hit THE STRANGERS.

"Inspired by" THE STRANGERS, this project began as a screenplay Bertino wrote soon after the release of that film. Although the script has gone through rewrites by both Bertino himself and Ben Ketai over the years, the core story has always remained the same:

A family's road trip takes a dangerous turn when they arrive at a secluded mobile home park to stay with some relatives and find it mysteriously deserted. Under the cover of darkness, three masked psychopaths pay them a visit to test the family's every limit as they struggle to survive.

Telling that story required creating a mobile home park, and that's what production designer Freddy Waff and the crew of THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT did on that 56 acres near the airport, bringing in 22 trailer homes to put in spaces where homes used to sit decades ago, also filling in areas with vintage RVs. When I visited the set of the film on the night of June 28th, Waff provided a tour of the trailer park he had assembled, which I found to be a truly stunning accomplishment. 

Waff mentioned that one thing he loved about the original THE STRANGERS was that it looked timeless, mixing modern technology with an old school style. That's clearly something he endeavored to carry over into this new STRANGERS, in both the vehicles that were chosen (the motor homes were all from the '70s and '80s) and the interior design of the trailers - complete with an old Simon and Garfunkel record laying out in the main trailer home.

Riding into the heart of this unoccupied trailer park and then walking around among the trailers that the production had only recently brought in, I saw nothing that gave away the fact that this wasn't a real place. Every trailer seemed naturally placed, each had its own style, there were decorations sitting outside of them, the crew had put in stone driveways. I would have bought that these trailers were occupied, and that should come through in the film as well. Driving home the authenticity of the set even more was the "old trailer smell" that hit you when you walked inside these mobile homes.

Being in control of their own little village allowed the filmmakers to shoot THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT in sequence for the most part, leaving behind evidence of mayhem in the areas they were done with. For example, if this were a functioning trailer park, the sight of a minivan being stuck in the wall of one of the trailers, having been abandoned after slamming into someone's home, would have been a shocking one.

Another crew member who offered a peek behind the curtain was prop master Steve Ochoa, who allowed me to handle some of the weapons that will be put to use in the film. There were axes - dull ones for close shots, rubber ones for the actors to handle, and foam ones for when someone is to be struck with the axe. There were knives of the same variety as well, plus ones with retractable blades and ones that could be strapped to an actor so it looked like it was buried in their body. Also in the prop van were guns with dummy bullets, plus weathered license plates that will be seen on the Strangers' Ford pickup truck in the film. A recreation of the license plate the truck had in the 2008 movie.


FILMING

Roberts has been very open about the fact that his STRANGERS will feature a lot more of the Strangers' truck than was seen in Bertino's film, even going so far as to say that CHRISTINE, DUEL, and THE CAR are influences on PREY AT NIGHT. The scene I was able to see being filmed did involve the truck, and it's one that has been featured prominently in the marketing materials.

In this scene, set in the middle of a dark and foggy night, teenage heroine Kinsey (played by Bailee Madison) - looking like she has already been through some rough stuff by this point in the film - has managed to get behind the wheel of a police vehicle, but before she can drive out of there the Strangers' truck comes speeding up behind the vehicle and smashes into its rear end. They weren't filming the impact that night; that had been shot earlier, as evident from the damage on the back of another version of the police vehicle that was parked at the location.

After getting a few takes of the truck driving up to the back of the police vehicle, Roberts and his crew began filming the aftermath of the smash-up, in which the truck pulls up alongside the vehicle with the Man in the Mask (who will be played by Damian Maffei in the film, but for this moment was being portrayed by stunt coordinator Cal Johnson) behind the wheel. The Man in the Mask slowly looks over at Kinsey, sitting at the wheel of the other vehicle. Then he looks back to the road ahead and drives off. It's no surprise to me that this scene has been included in the trailer and TV spots, because even when I was on the set, watching it play out right in front of me, I could tell that this was some iconic, classic slasher imagery.

It was interesting to watch the different takes being shot of this awesome but simple moment, watching Roberts point out the different reasons for another take being necessary. After one take, the Man's mask had to be pinned differently because it was hanging in such a way that it made him look like he was smiling. You can't have your slasher's sack mask looking silly. In another take, the steering wheel of the truck gave Johnson some trouble. A slasher has to steer their truck smoothly. In yet another, the fog being pumped behind the truck was too thick, making it look like this thing was smoking like a steam engine. Finally they got a take in which the mask, the steering, and the fog all came across on screen just right.

Before I left the set that night, I got a glimpse of another vehicular collision being filmed. This time the camera was mounted on a vehicle itself so it could race alongside the truck through the trailer park, and it looked like the truck was going to T-bone the police vehicle. The shot of the truck speeding along looked really cool on the monitor, so I'm sure that's going to be an exciting moment in the finished film.

That's what I witnessed during my time on the set, things that we'll get a chance to see on the big screen when THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT reaches theatres on March 9th.. In the second half of this report, I'll share some quotes provided by actors Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman, stunt coordinator Cal Johnson, producer James Harris, and director Johannes Roberts.

READ PART 2 OF THE SET VISIT REPORT HERE

Extra Tidbit: Aviron Pictures is giving THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT a theatrical release on March 9th.

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