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A follow-up to the 2008 cult horror hit "The Strangers," "The Strangers: Prey at Night" isn't really a sequel, at least not in the generally accepted sense of the word. Rather than advancing the story — about a couple who is terrorized by three masked assailants wielding knives and an ax — "Prey at Night" merely swaps out the first film's victims for two new characters.

"Characters" is such a strong word. Teenage Luke (Lewis Pullman) and his younger sister, Kinsey (Bailee Madison), aren't so much people as pawns, fresh meat that just keeps getting pushed around an increasingly blood-soaked chessboard — an empty, dimly lit trailer park, just off the exit for Godforsaken Nowhere.

During a stopover with their parents on the way to drop Kinsey off at boarding school, they're stalked by the same trio of theatrical psychopaths we met 10 years ago: two young women in Halloween masks, known as Dollface and Pinup Girl (Emma Bellomy and Lea Enslin, respectively), and the Man in a Mask (Damian Maffei) with a burlap sack over his head, emblazoned with a crude, scarecrow face. Mom and Dad, played by Christina Hendricks and Martin Henderson, get dispatched fairly quickly, along with some vague, never-specified back story about Kinsey's troubled past.

You've got to give credit to Bryan Bertino, who wrote and directed the first film on a shoestring budget of $9 million and who co-wrote this one (with Ben Ketai) before handing the reins to director Johannes Roberts ("47 Meters Down"). At least he sticks to the filmmaking mantra that has guided so many horror auteurs before him: Keep it simple, stupid. You won't get any bells and whistles here.

Too bad, because it could use lots of bells and whistles. Roberts has opted to keep it simple and stupid, eschewing recognizable human behavior for set pieces that look good but make no sense. One lurid, extended sequence takes place in and around a neon-lit swimming pool, where the Man in the Mask goes after Luke, ultimately injuring him, amid an expanding plume of blood, in the aquamarine water.

That attack is set to the song "Total Eclipse of the Heart," by Bonnie Tyler, which blares from the park's PA system, in an attempt at — who knows? — irony, maybe? Or perhaps it's an homage to the golden age of cheese-ball slasher movies? Other soundtrack offerings include such 1980s power ballads as "Kids in America" by Kim Wilde and Air Supply's "Making Love Out of Nothing at All." Talk about scary.

The whole thing has the air of a cynical, low-quality knockoff of something that wasn't very good to begin with.

The Strangers: Prey at Night

★½ out of 4 stars

Rating: R for horror violence and profanity.