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Set Visit - The Strangers: Prey at Night (Part Two: Cast and Crew)

READ PART 1 OF THE SET VISIT REPORT HERE

Directed by Johannes Roberts from a screenplay written by Ben Ketai and THE STRANGERS creator Bryan Bertino, THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT centers on a family of four, as the synopsis gives away: 

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.

That family is played by Martin Henderson and Christina Hendricks as the parents, with Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman as their teenage children, but when I was on the set the only members of the family who were shooting scenes that night were Madison and Pullman.

While I wasn't able to talk to the actors who play the Strangers themselves in the film because their identities were still being kept under wraps at that point (all that would be revealed over the course of the night were the first names of actors Damian Maffei, Emma Bellomy, and Lea Enslin), Madison and Pullman did take some time during breaks in the filming to participate in quick Q&A sessions with myself and a fellow journalist.


BAILEE MADISON 

When asked to describe her character, Madison responded, 

Kinsey's this very fierce-minded, original, "marches to her own" beat teenager, and when we first meet her you can tell she's very disconnected from her family, but the internal pain she has is far worse because she wants to be connected, she wants to feel love, she wants to be the good daughter. She's at a point right now where she feels it's almost easier to not even try than to try. Throughout the film you throw her into this horrific world where she has to realize what's worth fighting for and what really matters in life. I love her. She's a badass, she's really cool.

When confronted by the Strangers, is Kinsey's reaction to just try to escape, or does she attempt to fight back?

I think when you're being tormented by anybody, you probably just want to get the heck out of there. What's interesting is that there's always a child within all of us, no matter how old you are, and when you're in a situation that's scary I don't think your adult instincts kick in, I think you want to be comforted, and that's something we explore as well, which is a really fun dynamic to show, the layers she has within her.

The characters played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman in the first STRANGERS weren't really able to do anything at all to the Strangers. Any attempt to stand up for themselves went horribly wrong. It will be interesting to see if the characters in PREY AT NIGHT are able to defend themselves more effectively... But it doesn't sound promising for them.

In the place, in the surroundings we're in, I think we're equally as incapable of escaping them. In the first movie, they were in a house, and obviously they couldn't get in their car and there were no landlines, but we're dealing with the same situations but we're dropped into a maze of a world where everywhere that you 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 of where the twists and turns may come. I think the stakes are definitely a lot higher, because you're all trying to save one another and you're in a world where it's very, very hard to.

Madison's answer to the first question made it very clear that there is going to be some conflict within the family of protagonists. Much like the characters in the first film, who were dealing with a break-up before the Strangers come knocking at their door, the family in this one will have plenty of character drama to sort through before their lives are put in danger.

I was so drawn to the first movie because of (the character drama). It's very rare to start a film that's very dreadful and very horrific in that kind of element. You're used to the family road trips where everyone's singing and happy, and then "Oh my God! Bam!" something's about to go wrong. Whereas we're able to follow the things that the classic held so well, which is the immediate amount of dread. You're watching the lives of these people that you shouldn't be watching and you yourself are a stranger. So when we first pick up with the family, you're gonna feel the same amount of 'What is going on?' What was so beautifully done in the script was that each character was so carefully detailed and written about, you understood them, but you didn't understand them as a whole. There are so many questions when you begin the film that once you go throughout the film the questions start unravelling even more. It's kind of a nod to the first movie, which I'm glad we're able to do.

Kinsey, in her heart, is close to everybody. I think she won't allow herself to be. She's very distant, she's not a part of anything, she's about to be shipped off to boarding school. So imagine how she feels with that. She doesn't want to talk to anybody in that car. So that's very interesting, when she herself feels dead to the family, and then she's put in a place where death is possible. That's really frightening.

With a family being the target of the Strangers this time rather than an unhappy couple, it struck me that this could make the situation even more intense for the characters - they have a stronger bond to each other, they could be even more worried about each other's well-being. I asked Madison if this was the case.

I think that it could be more intense. We all have family members, we all know what it feels like to have that fear of getting a call that something was wrong or that something isn't right or be in a situation with them and something bad happening, you being incapable of helping them. That is something that pulls on our heartstrings no matter what age, and I think that what's even more devastating is that they're not in a good place and they all want to be, but they're not clicking, and it breaks all of their hearts equally. They're all trying their best, but nothing's working out. And then they're here, and all of their moments are trying to love one another while trying to stay alive and protect one another. That's when all of the confusion and the teenage antics and the 'What's right for her, what's not right?' and the grudges, I think that's all dropped. At this point, we're just vulnerable characters who are trying to be our best versions of ourselves in order to get out of here. So yeah, I think it's really scary.

What was it like seeing the Strangers in costume for the first time?

Oh, it was awful. Christina Hendricks and I, we actually requested that the first time we were 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. It's been three weeks into it and I'm still so scared when I see the Man or Dollface or Pin-Up. I'm also a scaredy cat when it comes to masks, like it's my biggest fear, I can't go to Halloween Horror Nights, I can't do any of that without crying, and I'm on a set where they're just walking everywhere. It's very scary, and it's all at night, too. It's not like we're in the daytime. It's nighttime in the woods, blood, dirt, bugs, real bugs, and these really scary people running after you. Our first day of filming was during the day, that's when we just all get in the car. It picks up very quickly at night, and you're in the night shadows, dealing with things when no one else is awake and you unfortunately have to be.

Did she maintain that distance from the actors playing the Strangers?

Now we're all friends. I kept the distance for like the first three days, then I was like, 'I can't do this anymore.' The Man in the Mask is great, his name's Damian, he's hysterical. Dollface is played by a girl named Emma, and she just scares me. Just in general. She's really sweet and very dolly herself, then we hand her a knife and she's like, 'Hahahaha, fun!' Don't say fun, it's not fun! She's gotten really into it and she's super duper scary.

Given the fact that the location that was turned into the trailer park where most of the film's action takes place was very close to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, there were frequently airplanes very loudly flying in low overhead. They disrupted conversations on the set so often, it had to be asked how many intense scenes had been interrupted by the roar of plane engines.

Actually none. We've been really cautious, or if there is an airplane they'll let us go and we'll figure it out. We'd rather go and ADR than pause it. For a lot of these scenes, it's relying on natural instincts, and in the moment. You can't really prepare for a movie like this. You can try physically, but you're still going to be bruised by the end because of all the stunts, and you can try emotionally, but no one's ever come after you with an axe before and I have nothing to draw from. So when you're in these moments you just give it your all, and airplanes, cars, sirens, you kind of block it out and you just have to live in the world that you're living in.

Asked how she approached her character, Madison answered, 

I wrote character notebooks, like diaries that maybe Kinsey would have written about her parents and her brother, and I did a lot of prep beforehand to let me try and understand who she really is. Also understanding that it's not that exciting to watch an hour and a half movie of someone crying, but it is exciting to watch them cry and get strong and then break down again, be vulnerable, and then be fearful. There's so many layers of fear that if you can uncover some of them or most of them, I think that's what makes horror really exciting. I love horror performances.

Was she a fan of the first STRANGERS?

I loved it. I didn't see the original until I got the script. I was pretty young when the original came out, I think it came out in 2008, so I was 8 years old, so probably not my cup of tea. A little bit too young. But I watched the movie before I read the script, because I knew it was a "sequel" - it's not really a sequel, because it's ten years later and you can still see this one if you hadn't seen the first. But I just wanted to see what it was about, what it was shot like. I watched it three times in one night. I was so in love with it, thought it was so beautifully done. I had been reading so many horror scripts, because I knew that... from what I had been able to do in the past, I have been very fortunate to play really fun characters, I wanted to do something that was very out of my comfort zone and allowed me to grow up but in a way that I could keep my clothes on, I didn't have to go too crazy, but I could still establish that I am choosing things that are a little bit grittier and edgier. Throughout that process, I didn't want to lose characters and realness, and when I saw the first I saw that you felt for these people, and it was very truthful and it could happen, and that was what was so scary. And then I immediately shut off the movie after it was done, I read the script, and I called my team and said 'I have to be a part of this.' It's really exciting, and I'm really happy to be here.

Looking over her filmography, Madison actually has quite a few credits on horror-related projects, most notably (before this one) the Guillermo del Toro-produced remake of DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. What draws her to the horror genre?

I'm drawn to horror because it's such a scary place to put yourself in. You can't look pretty, it's not about smiling, it's not about being in hair and makeup for an hour and trying to wear cool outfits that fans will like. It's about letting yourself go and stripping layers and looking ugly and letting snot and tears roll down your face and being okay with it. As an actor, that's a very vulnerable thing to do, as a human being that's a very scary thing to do, and I love the idea that horror allows yourself to just focus entirely on the character and the script and the emotions, and that's it. I've been drawn to it in that aspect.

What is her favorite horror movie?

THE SHINING was the first horror movie that I ever saw, which is probably a really bad first to show a little girl, because that was so scary, but I thought it was so brilliantly done. GET OUT, I just watched GET OUT, and I just thought that was so brilliant. I just think it was one of the best films that have been made. So I enjoyed that. I'm all for THE PURGE and those ones that make you crazy. But now it's THE STRANGERS. I've probably watched it over fifteen times. I watch it a lot for the sake of just studying it and the places they were at, and the cinematography I thought was really beautiful. So I used a lot of my research for this movie with the first one. Because I also think the fans who followed the first are so heavily involved, and the stakes here are just as high to make it just as good. We all wanted to be respectful to the first movie while also establishing a new era for THE STRANGERS.

As has been said, PREY AT NIGHT takes place in a sprawling, maze-like trailer park, making the scope of the film obviously much larger than THE STRANGERS' one house location. 

We have three locations. We shot in a little park called Kincaid Park, about an hour and a half away from where we're shooting here, and that's where the lakes are and where the camping ground is, and that's just scary enough. Then we have our warehouse, which is where we did all the interior stuff, and that's where we started off filming, so we started off in the trailer not knowing what the outside world looked like. When we all got here, we were like, 'This is petrifying.' Because it's so confusing, even drivers were getting lost trying to get us back to base camp. That's when you realize, it's when you're trapped and you're just working on your feet and you're trying to get out of a place like this, it's really scary.

Asked if the wider scope gave the film a substantially different feeling than the original STRANGERS, Madison said, 

I don't think it changes the feeling of what people liked about it. No matter where you put these people, when you combine them with these three crazy masked killers, the vibe is very much there. But I do think it was necessary to put them in a new world, because I don't think the Strangers just look for a house, I think they look to kill because they want to kill. That's what makes them really scary. So I don't think the vibe has changed, if anything I think it's been elevated. 


LEWIS PULLMAN

Lewis Pullman, who happens to be the son of the legendary Bill Pullman, plays Kinsey's brother Luke. I wasn't able to see any scenes being filmed with Pullman in them, but he was on location, prepared to step in front of the camera later in the night. 

The conversation with Pullman started with him being asked to describe his character.

Luke is one of the more relatable characters, because he's kind of caught in the crosshairs of this turmoil that the audience is catching this family within. He is constantly trying to be the mediator, but the film takes place right at the beginning of when he starts to become exhausted by it. He's weakened by it. But he's kind of just the classic American kid, he plays baseball, he's really just focused on hanging out with his friends, and that's what wild about what takes place toward the latter half of the film, because he's a very ordinary person in an extraordinary circumstance. I think there's a lot of weight to that, in how he grows throughout the film. In the end he becomes, perhaps, an extraordinary person in an extraordinary circumstance.

What is Luke's relationship with Kinsey like?

He is kind of uncovering it as the film goes on, they're kind of peeling away layers, and kind of discovering the weight of what they mean to each other. Definitely, it's bittersweet. She thinks he is this do-gooder, can do no wrong in the eyes of his folks, and she is constantly frustrated with how she's treated and misunderstood. He thinks if she'd just stop making everything so complicated for herself maybe they wouldn't be in this mess. That's what's great about THE STRANGERS, the first one as well. Unlike a lot of the horror that takes place within a situation that's really awesome, like they're on a vacation and everything's going really well, and then something creeps up on the group and then horror ensues, in both of these cases the audience is sprung on these, in the first case couple and in the second case family, that are amidst trouble and amidst turmoil, amidst their own kind of chaos before chaos of an unimaginable kind ensues later on.

Since there hadn't been much specific said about Luke and Kinsey's parents yet, I was curious to hear what Martin Henderson and Christina Hendricks' characters are like: 

Martin's character is kind of a kid in a grown man's body, he wasn't expecting to have these kind of issues. 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, he kind of has a more childish tendency than Christina's character. He's constantly going back and forth between wanting to be this father figure and wanting to just be a kid with the kids, and be like, 'Why does this all have to be so difficult, and why are we fighting so much, and why can't we understand each other?' Cindy is the spearheader of the family and she has a lot of the control, she's kind of the puppeteer in there, although at times she finds that it's out of her hands. 

Was Pullman a fan of THE STRANGERS before being cast in PREY AT NIGHT?

I had seen it when it first came out, clearly I blacked out when I saw it because I was so scared and I didn't remember much of it, but I remembered that it was damn scary. I revisited it once I read the script, because I remembered it was good but I couldn't remember what exactly went on. So I rewatched it with my dad, who's also an actor, and we were both trying to be tough and like 'Maybe I would have done something different', but we were scared shitless. Needless to say, after I watched the first one I was surprised by how it goes by its own rules when it comes to horror. It's really surprising and very atypical when it comes to any cliches or any predictabilities, and that was what was really exciting about the possibility of a sequel to me.

When asked to tell us about the Strangers, Pullman said, 

A lot of the fans who love the first one are going to be especially excited about this one, it's definitely a feast when it comes to the Strangers because you get to know the Strangers a little bit more. It's not over revealing, there's no over exposure, they remain Strangers, but you're given more to put together. It's a pretty ripe cousin to the first one because it has a lot of potential for people to start to try and understand why these people are doing what they're doing and who they might be and where they maybe came from.

What was his first encounter with the Strangers like?

I got legitimately scared. It was out of sequence, but it's a scene where I run into this main office to try and make a phone call to the outer world, and I run in, I'm looking for the phone, I find the phone and I pick it up, and this... it sounds really mundane when I say it, but this slushie machine that's in there turns on, and it's just this slushie machine that's spinning around, and then these chimes go off, and it's just these things that you see normally all of a sudden on their own, and me being completely jacked up, it really frightened me. And then one of the Strangers is present and pops up in the office, and I had made a deliberate choice not to look at her before, and when I turned around I was extremely extremely extremely frightened and had to remind myself that that is somebody who I know who's behind that mask and not somebody who's about to actually stab me right now.


STUNT COORDINATOR CAL JOHNSON

Stunt coordinator Cal Johnson was at the center of the scenes I watched being filmed. He was at the wheel of the Strangers' Ford pickup, driving toward the police vehicle Kinsey/Madison was sitting in, obviously slamming the truck into it in takes that I didn't witness. He was doubling the Man in the Mask for the moment that's featured in the trailer and TV spots, where the killer looks over at the heroine while behind the wheel of the truck, and he was putting on quite a slasher performance, from what I could see. 

Johnson had experience with this sort of thing - he was also stunt coordinator on the first STRANGERS. But just during my brief time on the set of PREY AT NIGHT, it was clear that he had been given a whole lot more to do on this one.

During a trip to the catering tent, Johnson offered a tease of what sort of truck action we can expect to witness in the film, and confirmed that there is going to be a whole lot of it:

We did a fire test on one of the trucks to see the speed that we could go to keep the fire lit so it wouldn't blow down or not so fast to where we couldn't track with me inside. So we found a good, optimal speed for that. The flames we had were about 18 feet tall, coming off the hood, roof, the sides of it. So we're gonna cull it down just a little bit, just because it's more manageable that way. I was burning for almost a minute and a half, which is a real long burn. So we prepped it just like a regular fire burn for myself, like when we set ourselves on fire, but I was fully prepped inside in case the cockpit was breached by the fire, if I caught on fire in there then I would have a little bit of safety margin for the safety guys to come in and get me. For me to get out and get put out by them. We prepped everything just the same way and it worked out perfect, so tomorrow night we're gonna set it on fire and chase Bailee down the street. She's amazing, she's gonna be really good. She wants to be a part of it and we're gonna be able to put her in really close to the fire and drift circles around her. It's gonna be a lot of fun tomorrow night. Tonight will be fun, too. We get to crash it a couple of times.

I told them when we first landed that we were gonna go through a lot of vehicles. I don't think they really grasped how many vehicles we're gonna go through, but yeah. The wear and tear on them is extreme. We have to have different vehicles for different things, like the hero truck is good drifting, pick up speed, good driving. The second one drives okay, but that's the one we were doing all the crashing with. The last one, the hero truck, is the one we wanted to be able to do most of the fire stuff with. It drove the best and handled the best, as far as maneuverability and stuff we'll need. If we get to jump through the mobile home at the end on fire, that's gonna be awesome. If not, then it'll still be pretty cool. Everything that comes in range is going to be set on fire. 


DIRECTOR JOHANNES ROBERTS / PRODUCER JAMES HARRIS

Director Johannes Roberts, who was experiencing some terrific success with the theatrical release of his shark thriller 47 METERS DOWN during the filming of THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT, was also kind enough to talk to us while taking a lunch break at the catering tent, with producer James Harris on hand to answer some questions as well.

PREY AT NIGHT had been stuck in development hell for the better part of a decade before being rescued by The Fyzz Facility, so how did Roberts end up becoming the director who got to bring this long-awaited project to life?

ROBERTS: I had just done 47 METERS DOWN with James, and I was chatting with the company James is part of called The Fyzz, and they had got the script for STRANGERS and they said 'Are you interested?' Then I read the script, really liked it, and said 'Oh yeah, cool, let's do this.' A very quick and easy process.

Was he a fan of Bryan Bertino's film?

ROBERTS: I liked the original a lot. It's one of the most uniquely paced horror movies I've ever seen, it's got a really slow but interesting pace. It's really good, performances are great, it's just scary as hell. Very bleak.

Roberts hadn't been in contact with Bertino, but Harris did mention that 

HARRIS: He's been very supportive, actually. They've been very good, him and (THE STRANGERS producer) Trevor Macy. I think, like everybody else, Bryan's just happy to see it get made.

Bertino wrote the initial drafts of the script very soon after THE STRANGERS was released. So how much of that script has made it to the screen?

ROBERTS: Pretty much all, I think, yeah. There's a guy called Ben Ketai, he'd come on and he and Bryan had done a draft together. There were a few more, I know Bryan had done a few drafts independently before that. But we didn't deviate too much from it.

What does PREY AT NIGHT retain from its predecessor, and how does it shake things up?

ROBERTS: I liked the tone of the original, it's very grounded. It's all sort of drama based, I think that's great. I think in this one, the big thing is the truck. I'm really having fun with the truck. So we looked at a lot of '70s movies like DUEL, CHRISTINE, THE CAR. THE CAR, that's such a good movie. That's been a part of it, so it has a very unique feel.

Acknowledging that PREY AT NIGHT is a bigger film than its predecessor (with "bigger action and a bigger body count"), Roberts said, 

ROBERTS: I think you have to do that. What you don't want to do is do the original again, badly. So you've got to add something to it. But I think the thing you have to be careful with something like this is, THE PURGE is like THE STRANGERS: TURBO. So you have to bring something to it in a different way, there's no point in having fifteen Strangers running around with machine guns.

Roberts had mentioned the vehicular action of films like DUEL, CHRISTINE, and THE CAR as an inspiration for PREY AT NIGHT in other interviews I had read, but I had also seen him bring up Nicolas Roeg's 1973 thriller DON'T LOOK NOW, and I was very interested to find out what sort of influence that film had on what he was doing with this one:

ROBERTS: We've got a very retro feel to the movie, with the look of it. We're using a lot of zoom lenses and a lot of very long takes and developing shots, and even pulling out split diopters, so it has quite a retro feel, so DON'T LOOK NOW was a big influence in the look of it.

Since Roberts was going for a retro feel, he brought on a cinematographer who had shot retro-style films before, Ryan Samul.

ROBERTS: (The 2014 film) COLD IN JULY is phenomenol, phenomenol looking movie. He felt like a good fit.

When asked how the film will present the dynamics of the family being attacked by the Strangers, Roberts said, 

ROBERTS: Similar to the first one, it has a very personal feel, you really get drawn into that family. It's a dark movie, this is as dark as anything I've done. It's quite terrible, what unfolds is quite disturbing. Very frightening. You just kind of expand on it, in a similar way to the first one, which I love. You had this relationship falling apart, and here you have this family falling apart and you sort of follow them trying to fight against this unseen foe. It's a pretty disturbing story.

Asked how they approached the Strangers, and if those characters are handled differently in this film, Harris said, 

HARRIS: You don't need to hide them as much because they already exist in the world.

The director added, 

ROBERTS: In the first one they didn't really hide it either, to be honest. So they're out there, we play, we do a few things with them they didn't do in the first. Like I said, in this one the truck is very much the fourth Stranger.

Will the characters will be more capable in their fight against the Strangers than the couple in the first film were?

ROBERTS: You'll have to wait and see.

tomandandy, the composers who provided the score for THE STRANGERS, did not come back to score PREY AT NIGHT. It has since been announced that Adrian Johnston has done the music for the new film, but at the time it wasn't known who would be doing the score. So I asked if tomandandy might be back.  

ROBERTS: tomandandy did the shark movie (47 METERS DOWN) and did an incredible job. Unfortunately, I don't think we're able to use them. They were the first people we went to on this and chatted to them, but for various reasons we can't. So we're just looking at people. But yeah, tomandandy are phenomenol. We'll probably look for a UK composer.

(Johnston is indeed a UK composer.)

Will PREY AT NIGHT be building upon the last line spoken by the Strangers in the previous film, "It'll be easier next time"?

ROBERTS: Not so much the line, but their intent. Their nihilistic intent is very much played with in this one. 

When asked what his favorite scene he had shot for PREY AT NIGHT was, Roberts said, 

ROBERTS: I really enjoy, I love anything with the truck. Like tonight, I really enjoyed. It's just fun. But it's actually been a fun one to make because one day it's the actors, and they're so cool, and the next day you're blowing shit up. So it's kind of a fun one, this one. And it's not underwater.

Over the course of his nearly 20 year career, Roberts has directed a lot of horror and thriller projects. What draws him to the genre, and does he have any intention of making movies outside of the genre?

ROBERTS: I'm a big horror nut. Love Stephen King, love John Carpenter. We've got a Stephen King project called HEARTS, which is based on the story Hearts in Atlantis, which is a beautiful story. It's a group of kids playing cards, it's kind of like STAND BY ME. Great coming of age type of story. I can't wait to do that.

Before Roberts gets to HEARTS, he'll be diving into another thriller, as he's set to direct the shark sequel 48 METERS DOWN next. But before cameras start rolling on that one, THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT will be stalking into theatres on March 9th.

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

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