Strangers, The (2008)

the Strangers (click for larger image)Reviewed by Nomad

Starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Kip Weeks, Gemma Ward, Laura Margolis

Directed by Bryan Bertino

There are movies that rely on a blistering pace complete with chase scenes, explosions, limbs launched into the night sky and the inevitable “pop up killer” ending, sending them to hell in a hail of bullets and surface to air missiles. Other films rope you in with dizzying dialogue, leaving you with something to think about and seriously questioning your level of education. Then there is the quiet intensity. These are the films I tend to remember the most. Unsettling at times, gripping … tying your stomach in knots one second and erupting with action the next. The Strangers falls into this last category.

The story is exceedingly simple and all but revealed by the numerous trailers and commercials we’ve been bombarded with in the last few weeks. An attractive young couple come to a secluded house, seemingly to celebrate their love for one another. In actuality, there is no surplus of happiness floating out the bay windows, enticing blue birds to sing along. This ain’t no Disney movie. Hell, it’s not even Pixar.

the Strangers (click for larger image)The Strangers is a silent, brooding time bomb of a tale … and we all know what is going to happen. The trick is in making us wait for it. Unbearable quiet becomes a weapon, broken by a sudden slamming against the door, the always creepy folksy music playing on a record player and the ethereal appearance of masked maniacs. It becomes clear that The Strangers is written and directed by someone who not only LIKES horror but understands what it takes to scare someone. In Hollywood today this is a rare thing.

Liv Tyler plays Kristen McKay, girlfriend to Scott Speedman’s James Hoyt … and that’s just about all you’ll be told about this couple. In fact, telling you their last names is probably more information than you’ll get by watching the film. Not having to establish any lengthy back story allows the events to unfold naturally on a very specific, somber note. We have two people, very emotionally involved, coping with a situation that’s left them heartbroken and drained. Tyler and Speedman remain fully believable throughout, almost reacting as if they were ad-libbing in a language that came naturally to them. This allows the film to bite into viewers early, taking a stake in what happens to two likable characters that are obviously already hurting. Again, this seems to be a rare thing in big screen, wide release horror today. For me personally, if I give a damn about the lead characters, it is easy for me to grip the arms of my seat a little tighter as they run in terror.

the Strangers (click for larger image)With our three baddies cloaked in masks, the real antagonist of this film becomes cold, calculating horror. It’s incalculably vital to set a pace, maintain that dark tone and toss in just enough action so that when there is a deafening silence, it only helps to fray one’s nerves as we wait for the inevitable jolt, sending our poor couple off and running again. These elements are laid out with such honesty in execution and precision that by the time I wondered how much longer the masked maniacs would torment Kristen and James, things had come to a head and a sticky resolution was at hand. How’s that for service?

Effective jump scares? Check. Superior use of sound? Check. Creepy as all hell psychos? Check. Fantastic acting? Double Check. The Strangers is the horror film we’ve sorely needed. The long-standing argument is that horror fans are not happy unless body parts are flying, guts are spilling out and blood paints every wall and ceiling. In my experience horror fans just want to feel something. To sit in a theater and become emotionally invested in the survival of two people who didn’t do anything to deserve what’s coming. To wonder if we’ll find out why this is happening to them beyond the cryptic answer from the commercials of “You were home.” This is one terrifying trip that grabs you tight and won’t let go until you find out what happens in the end. Not since The Blair Witch Project has a movie had the power to get under your skin to the point where you’ll most likely take that terror home with you. The Strangers delivers. Remember this. It can happen to anyone … at any time.

4 1/2 out of 5

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  • PelusaMG

    I resisted reading this review until I saw the film – and just have…

    I thought it was creepy (esp. the strangers), a bit too labourious in its build up, one too many “they’re here, no they’ve gone moments”, and disappointed that the end was a blink and you’ll miss it sort of affair… But saying that I thought both actors were convincing, loved the use of silence to build tension, LOVED the feeling I got of tension(my legs were hurting by the end), and I loved some of Myers-esque moments from the male stranger (E.g. tilts of the head side-to-side while watching his prey). Oh, and I also loved the bit where he sat down in the kitchen to catch his breath… a nice ‘human’ touch! However, I agree with a comment below that the montage of bedlum to come at the beginning of the film kind of gave it away – for instance, having shown us the blood stain on the wall it was obvious that when his friend arrived, he was going to be the one getting shot – and the shaky cam was a little too much for my stomach at times.

    A good film though – I would have given it 4 knives!

  • totalkanefan

    This movie was the first movie of its kind in a while! THANK GOD IT CAME OUT! It was full of some crazy tension, and left you wanting, but leaving you with nothing! My friend left the theater shaking, and I wanted to see it again. It did what old school movies used to do, MAKE YOU JUMP! SCARE YOU! LET YOU FEEL FOR THE CHARACTER AND NOT PAINT IT IN BLOOD!!!!!!!

  • Tristan Sinns

    >>”I’d say about three and a half knives would be more apt.”


    The most effective part of the film was the first 20 minutes after the Strangers had arrived. The contextual scares involved were rather brilliant. After that, it started to get a bit old hat.

    The other nitpick I had is this was set in the “real world”, and in the “real world” people don’t consistently move like stealth ninjas. How many scenes did this film have where the bad guy would be plain in view, the protagonist/victims would look away, and then the bad guy would be gone when they looked back? Over-used device!

    • Terminal

      I kind of forgave the stealthiness since these people seemed very experience in their terrorism, and the premise of the trio having a long history of torturing others seemed like they’d be very quick and quiet.

      The scene I loved, but still scratch my head at was when Tyler was crawling and Pin Up Girl is walking right behind her with the knife and just outright disappears. Great terror, weird stalling.

      The first half seemed like great drawing out before the final blow and in the last twenty minutes it just felt like the writers trying to keep it running as long as they could before the last punch.

  • The Woman In Black

    The absolute highest I’d go is a 4 — 3.75 would be perfect.

  • Terminal

    I think four and a half knives is very generous. I’d say about three and a half knives would be more apt. “The Strangers” was very, very good, just not great. That last scene was all sorts of ridiculousness, and giving away the ending in the opening was stupid.

  • Rorschach

    Wow….four and a half knives? Most folks I’ve talked to have compared this, unfavorably, to VACANCY.

    Those who have seen it, how close is that assessment?

  • Kryten Syxx

    Screw your fourth walls, Andrew!

  • Doc Block

    I absolutely loved this movie. I haven’t been this scared during a movie in a long time. I liked Funny Games but I loved The Strangers! I can’t wait to see this again!

  • Kryten Syxx

    Excellent film with only a few annoying horror cliches, a far better home invasion flick than Funny Games.

    • Hunter1006

      But Funny Games wasn’t cliched! Its art!

    • Sirand

      Funny Games was a send-up of movies like this. I liked The Strangers, but FG had its number about ten years ago.

      • Hunter1006

        I have yet to see The Strangers.
        But to each his own!

  • Hunter1006

    Speak of the devil (ha), look at my Avatar! HAHA

  • Hunter1006

    Oh, Creepy! You and your fourth walls!

  • Messiahman

    I loved THEM, including the scenes when they got out of the house. Not that interested in seeing a glossy Hollywood ripoff with Liv Tyler and Scott fucking Speedman.

    • Uncle Creepy

      Really? You see I felt that the tension just kind of petered out after the couple escaped in Them. I wouldn’t be so quick to write this one off. I think it genuinely looks good and not too glossy.

      • Messiahman

        I smell a biased review, you vicious net scoundrel. You know the writers, dontcha?


        • Uncle Creepy

          No but Speedman is just dreamy. *swoon*

          • Nomad

            I think Liv established that Speedman is a girlie girl. hehe

            but in all seriousness, he was really good in this.

    • Terminal

      I thought THEM was fantastic.

  • Hunter1006

    can’t fucking wait!

  • Sirand

    It ain’t THAT good…but it’s definately a solid ninety-minute ride. Like Creepy said, it’s a better version of Them.

    • Uncle Creepy

      But you don’t like … ANYTHING! Unless of course it happens to break the fourth wall. 😉

  • mansuave

    Why pray for a downer ending? Why not pray for an ending that fits the material, whether downer or not? I completely fail to understand the “if it’s a downer ending then it’s better ‘cuz it’s, like, more real, man” mindset. A downer ending just for the sake of it is silly, just as bad as a tacked-on happy ending.

    • Uncle Creepy

      Mainly because I’m tired of the whole “let’s wrap things up with a happy little bow” Hollywood mentality. I’m so very VERY sick of needlessly happy endings. The Eye remake is the most recent offender. The Chinese film’s ending was great and fitting. The American version? *shudder*

      Maybe I phrased that poorly. The movie looks to be a no nonsense creep-fest. I hope the ending is as you said … fitting.

      • mansuave

        Poorly phrased, perhaps, but also, I was using the opportunity to step on my soapbox. Nothing if not a politician, eh? It just seems like lately I’ve been getting into the “downer endings are better/no they’re not!” debate a lot, and your phrasing just set me off. I should’ve known you were more logical than that.

        That said, yeah, the movie looks nice and creepy. Love the bag head guy.

  • Uncle Creepy

    I’m stoked to see it too. From what I understand it’s like a much better version of THEM (Ils) which I loved until they got out of the house. I’m praying for a downer ending. This will also be the main subject of the next DFF!

  • Doc Block

    I cannot wait to see this. Definitely seeing it tomorrow night!