Liv Tyler - Kristen
Scott Speedman - James
Genre - Horror/Thriller/Suspense
Running Time - 85 Minutes
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4
Imagine you're the kind of person who prefers to chill at home in front of the television while watching a good movie rather than going out and partying all night until I come back smelling like puke and urine. Just when some hot lady is ready to pop out her two favorite friends, someone rings your doorbell. You ask who it is and they ask for some person who doesn't even live in your house. You send them away and rush back to watch two of the greatest things God has ever created. Suddenly, weird shit start happening inside your house, as if you feel someone is watching you...from the inside! Suddenly you turn around and you see the most horrifying thing ever in front of you: Paris Hilton. Not only that, but she also has brought a DVD for you to watch: BLOODY MURDER. You scream. You cry. Paris Hilton has made you her bitch in your own home. That's so not hot!
THE STRANGERS is sort of like that. Just without boobs. And Paris Hilton. And thankfully, BLOODY MURDER. But having three strangers wearing creepy masks inside your house that want to hurt you for an unknown reason is still a creepy thing to live through. But it's also a good feeling, because THE STRANGERS proves that horror can still be effective if the people behind the terror know what buttons to push.
Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) arrive at some cabin in the woods at 4 a.m. Apparently, their relationship is on the rocks after Kristen refused James' marriage proposal. As the two prepare to work things out and see if they can salvage what's left of their relationship, they receive a knock on the door. The two don't open the door, only hearing the person behind the door ask for "Tamara". The two dismiss the visitor and continue working things out. James heads out for something, leaving Kristen alone. Another knock on the door is heard, with the same visitor asking for "Tamara". Kristen starts getting nervous, not realizing that strangers have already infiltrated the cabin, blocking every way they can escape. Even as James returns to be with Kristen, the two struggle comprehending the horror that awaits them from these mysterious and heartless strangers.
THE STRANGERS is apparently similar to a French film called THEM [or ILS] that deals with the same home invasion concept. Some are even calling THE STRANGERS an American remake of that film. I've haven't seen THEM yet but it's in my queue somewhere, so I can't really compare the two films. What I can do is say that ever since this film was heavily promoted, I wanted to check this fucker out. For the first time in a long time, I was genuinely creeped out and intrigued by a movie trailer. I had to see this film because it didn't look or feel like the PG-13 remake crap that Hollywood seems to have a hard-on for these days. And while THE STRANGERS wasn't the perfect horror film, it exceeded my expectations. This is a good horror film people. Suspenseful, tension-filled, moments that will make you jump, an atmosphere so thick that it weighs you down - this is what's missing in the horror genre for years now.
The story benefits from being really short [85 minutes] and being really simple. We meet our protagonists, know enough about them to like them and want them to work things out, and then BOOM - three strangers pop out of nowhere to destroy their second chance at their relationship. No big budgeted set pieces. No over-the-top characterizations of people we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy. No need for an overabundance of blood and gore to make the "torture porn" kiddies happy. Just a small of group of characters who act like normal human beings and are put into a really messed up situation that could happen to any of us. Less is more and THE STRANGERS proves it to be true. It goes from A to B to C to D without missing a beat and trying to go to some twist ending that was really the purpose of the film to begin with. THE STRANGERS is effective because it doesn't do or say much. Things just happen and we're just as much in the dark about them as the two leads.
First time director Bryan Bertino does an incredible job behind the camera. He brought a 70s style of suspense and psychological horror to THE STRANGERS. The man built tension and suspense so much that I was actually anxious while watching this film. Bertino made me paranoid. He made me feel uncomfortable. He made me feel claustrophobic. He had me glued from beginning to end here. I loved the homages to John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN in this film. From the killer(s) standing outside the house just staring at the leads, the use of sound to amplify the fear and tension, and to the whole "white mask peeking out of the darkness behind the victim and then going back into the darkness" worked for me. This is not an upbeat horror film. It's very bleak and gloomy. No quick cutting. No shaky-cam. Just old school horror directing here and I fuckin' appreciated it. Nice to know there's a director out there who learned from true horror films and showed everyone that the rules still work.
The acting was effective in my opinion. I think this was really Liv Tyler's show, as she convinced me of her fright and helplessly confused state. The girl can scream too. Must have gotten it from her dad. And Scott Speedman, who I've liked watching since his days on Felicity, was very good here as well. Both gave credible performances, especially when all they had to do was react and act scared. The three actors playing The Strangers (Gemma Ward, Laura Margolis, and Kip Weeks) creeped me out. They barely had lines of dialogue, but their body language said enough for me. This is now an actor's showcase type of film, but I wasn't expecting it to be. All the actors believe in the project and the script and it really showed on screen. Kudos to all of them.
Before I get to the issues I had with the film, I just want to address some people who were bothered by the lack of motive involving The Strangers doing what they did to Kristen and James. I read some reviews for this film and some people complained that they wanted to know why these three visitors wanted to kill two innocent people and felt that the film failed because of the lack of info. Now I understand people wanting to know motive, but isn't it scarier not to know? Hell, why do you think the original HALLOWEEN worked so well while the sequels got buried? Because we didn't know why The Shape was doing what he was doing. We didn't know he was Laurie Strode's brother. We just thought he was some psycho who wanted to murder babysitters. That shit is scary! Why the fuck would I want to lose that feeling by learning these strangers' true intentions? Would I have liked to have known the reasoning behind it all? Sure, who wouldn't? But the film would have lost something if that was revealed. I'm happy not knowing about these strangers. In my opinion, it makes them represent any psychopath out there who hurts and kills people without giving anyone a concrete reason why. Sure, it may leave THE STRANGERS vulnerable to a sequel to reveal these answers, but I didn't really give a crap while in the moment. All we need to understand is that they are doing bad thing. We don't need to understand why.
Now for the beef I have with this film - it was too predictable. I pretty knew where the film was heading, as I telegraphed things before they even happened. I know it's hard to be original these days in a horror film but a little going against the grain of things could have been attempted. I also knew what the outcome would be as well, making the film not as creepy as I would have liked it to have been. Plus, why was Scott Speedman's character gone for so long in the film? It just felt a bit weird just watching Liv Tyler do whatever it took to get away from these nutjobs. His presence was surely lacking anytime he wasn't around. But other than that, THE STRANGERS is fine in my book.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE WISHING I WASN'T HOME
- Dudes eat ice cream when they're depressed. I thought only women did that? I guess four years on Felicity will do that to you.
- Don't be concerned when you're talking to your boyfriend and the phone goes dead. It's just symbolizing your fate within the next few minutes. Just be patient.
- Don't drive your car if people are messing with you. They'll just ram theirs into yours just to keep you at bay. Damn that Xzibit! He'll do anything for one more unneeded season of Pimp My Ride.
- Don't ever believe a guy who said he went hunting with his dad. If he can't hit his target in the toilet bowl or in the bedroom, the dude has never shot a gun in his life.
- Don't ever walk inside a house uninvited. You'll get a greeting that'll boggle the mind. Or splatter your brains against the wall. Whichever comes first, I guess.
- When Kristen tried to get on a radio for help, one of The Strangers broke it to stop her. I know the feeling. I want to do that anytime I hear a Jonas Brothers' song on any station. Yuck!
- Don't ever hide in a closet. Nothing good will ever come of it. See also: HALLOWEEN, CARRIE, and countless other horror films.
THE FINAL HOWL
THE STRANGERS was a very nice surprise. It's not a perfect horror film and it's pretty predictable, but it unsettled me more than any horror film in a long time. If you're into psychological scares that don't require massive amounts of blood, gore, and inventive kills to get your goose, this film is definitely for you. If you're looking for the next SAW or HOSTEL, you ain't gonna get it here. Still, I think THE STRANGERS is definitely worth a rental or even a buy when it's released later this year on DVD.
Excuse me, there's a knock on my door.
No, Tamara's not here.