- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Rogue Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
here is something oddly refreshing about “The Strangers” in the way it values the anticipation more than the deed. The movie’s narrative is shockingly simple – many will argue that the plot is too simple, and they are not wrong – but it is relentless in its execution. Some movies get their kicks out of torturing people to death. The bad guys in “The Strangers,” on the other hand, are much more interested in the terrorizing than the bloodletting. You have to admit, it’s a unique approach to a horror film, though not ultimately a fulfilling one.
Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman star as Kristen and James, a couple returning late to his family’s vacation home from a wedding reception. The evening has already not gone according to James’ plan – he proposed to her at the reception, she said no – so neither one is in the mood when they hear a knock on the door at four in the morning. A girl asks for Tamara. They tell her she has the wrong house. James leaves to get cigarettes for Kristen. Kristen hears more knocking and various noises in and around the house. Upon his return, James thinks she’s imagining things, but soon realizes that a group of masked strangers is indeed terrorizing them. They have no phones, and the strangers make quick work of James’ car. Uh oh.
Aside from a couple of cheap, sound-driven ‘boo’ jumps, “The Strangers” gets most of its scares the old-fashioned way. A slow pan here to reveal Dollface inches away from Kristen, a still shot there where The Man in the Mask slowly appears in the background. To up the ante on the creep scale, most of these scenes are shot in dead silence. Nothing has actually happened to either James or Kristen – other than the strangers foiling their attempts to escape – but that hardly matters. The suffocating nature of the movie engulfs the audience as well as the characters.
Then there are those four words on the poster that undermine everything: “Inspired by true events.” Truth may be stranger than fiction, but not when it comes to horror movies, otherwise the movie would be based on a true story, not inspired by one. I’m guessing that first-time writer/director Bryan Bertino was “inspired” to throw in the cell phone that either doesn’t work or is left in the car, in order to manufacture a dilemma that wouldn’t exist in the real world, because without it, he doesn’t have a movie. The plot also leads us to believe the strangers in question are relative newbies at the task at hand, yet they execute the evening’s events with military precision. They also benefit from what appears to be a neighborhood of deaf people. For all the banging, shooting and screaming that goes on in the house, they surely would have awoken one of the neighbors…right?
“The Strangers” refuses to go as far as most horror movies today, and that is to its benefit. (No one needs another movie where someone is tortured to death.) Unfortunately, the movie is forced to employ a series of teases and clichés in order for the plot to work, and some of them are unintentionally funny. It’s a lot of setup for what amounts to very little payoff, and while that enables the movie to stand out from its peers, there is a reason that movies are not generally made that way.
Unrated Blu-Ray Review:
For as well as Bryan Bertino's “The Strangers” did at the box office, you’d think that Universal could have produced a few more special features than this. There is no audio commentary, the deleted scenes are dull, and the making-of featurette, “The Elements of Terror,” never gets the chance to get in-depth about any aspect of production. The cover art proudly boasts that you're getting two movies in one, but the unrated cut really isn't different enough to make that kind of a statement.