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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