The Strangers horror sequel 'preys' for another box office hit
British director of horror movie The Strangers: Prey At Night says the lack of human expression in a killer's face is terrifying
One of British indie director Johannes Roberts' greatest fears is the lack of human emotion.
"I think what is genuinely scary - and is scary in The Lord Of The Rings and in many, many different genres - is emotionlessness, expressionlessness," said the 41-year-old director of the horror movie The Strangers: Prey At Night.
"When you're facing something that you can't go, 'Look, I've got a family' or 'I'll give you money' or whatever - they don't care, you're just getting this blank expression back - it's very frightening."
US writer-director Bryan Bertino's 2008 horror movie The Strangers was a shocking, claustrophobic home invasion flick which starred Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman and as antagonists, a trio of maniacal masked killers inspired by the Manson family of the 1960s.
A decade later, the follow-up Prey At Night, which opens here tomorrow, gives the enigmatic Dollface, Man in the Mask and Pin-Up Girl a bigger playground - a 56-acre mobile home park in the dense forests of northern Kentucky.
When a couple (Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson) take their rebellious teenage children (Bailee Madison and Lewis Pullman) on a road trip, an ordinary family excursion becomes their worst nightmare.
Upon arrival at the secluded park, a knock on their trailer door leads to a seemingly inescapable night of terror as the masked killers emerge from the darkness.
Bertino's original wasn't an unqualified success - it was rated at 45 per cent on movie aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes - but it still made US$52 million (S$68.3 million) in North America and US$30 million abroad, which was almost 10 times its production budget.
The sequel - which has changed hands several times since it was announced in 2008 - opened with US$10.4m at the US box office.
Roberts said: "When I got offered this, I was like, 'OK, this could be a minefield, this could... go all kinds of wrong. But I really saw a way to make a movie."
His look is retro - all far-off zoom shots and luminous fog - influenced by the John Carpenter movies of the late 1970s and 1980s, as well as classics such as Don't Look Now and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Roberts recalled: "I grew up on (J.R.R.) Tolkien stuff, like The Lord Of The Rings, which is basically horror - they're firing severed heads over battlements.
"Then, at about 13, 14, I discovered (US horror author) Stephen King and I was just like, 'OK, this is me'. And then I discovered all the movies that they made out of King books and I was hooked."
Roberts is not a huge fan of the home invasion genre, although Prey At Night is arguably more in keeping in tone with vacation horror movies like Deliverance (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Wolf Creek (2005).
Although he enjoys a gratuitous splash of gore as much as the next horror geek, Roberts said he prefers ghost stories and a tense atmosphere to the torture porn of Saw (2004) and its many sequels.
Roberts is however perhaps best known for writing and directing the suspenseful 2017 shark thriller 47 Meters Down, the first fictional feature to be filmed almost entirely underwater.
It was days away from a DVD release - with copies already out in some stores - when Entertainment Studios bought and released it in theatres, making US$65 million on a US$5 million budget.
Next up for Roberts is the sequel 48 Meters Down, which sounds like it will be taking its sharks into even creepier waters.
"If I can put it in a nutshell, I'm making The Descent underwater," he said, referring to the 2005 cult horror hit set in an unmapped cave system.
"I learned to cave dive while I was doing 47 Meters Down and it's the most terrifying thing in the world and I was just like, 'OK, cave sharks. How wrong can you go here?' It just seemed like a fun thing to do." - AFP