June 1, 2008

Movie Review: The Strangers

Here is a movie that has been bounced around the schedule a number of times. It was originally slated for release in August of 2007, but ended up getting moved a few times before landing here, early in the summer blockbuster season. Generally, getting moved around like that is not a good indicator of a movie's quality. However, quality is not always the concern, sometimes it is just because the film is a little more difficult to market. For example in 2004 Johnny Depp starred in a film called The Libertine, it was not released until 2006, and it proved to be an excellent film, featuring another great Depp performance. Now, quality can be very subjective, but I am sure you get the idea. As for The Strangers, I had hopes that it would be good, and I was not disappointed.

In this day and age of Saw, Hostel, and the rest of the so-called "torture porn" sub-genre of horror, The Strangers does not quite fit in. By comparison, The Strangers is quiet, sedate, and rather low on the blood flow. It is in this that the film was likely hard to market, what with the lack of torture, and blood.

The Strangers reminds me of both Vacancy and Funny Games. It shares much of the mean streak of Vacancy, with a similar set-up, and it's sense of randomness. Funny Games is a bit of a different matter, that slice of excellence was a commentary on the desensitization of audiences against violence, implicating the audience in what happens on the screen by writer/director Michael Haneke. In a way, The Strangers is the same film, only it revels in its subject matter rather than reviling the audience gleaning enjoyment from such dark and violent subject matter.

As the movie begins, we are told that this is based on actual events. We are even given people's names and the date that it happened. Of course, they cover themselves by saying that the specific events are not known. This, essentially, gives them free reign over what they choose to show us, since none of it can be called fact because none of it is known! Pretty slick, no? Still, I do not doubt that something along these lines has happened. The facts may never be known, but with The Strangers we can be manipulated into giving credence to our fears of just such a thing happening.

Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler star as James Hoyt and Kristen McKay, a young couple on their way to the Hoyt family summer home after attending a friend's wedding. There is an aura of sadness around the couple as they arrive home to find everything set up for a romantic evening with rose petals spread throughout the house. However, it is revealed that a failed proposal was the reason for the sadness. As the troubled couple talk, but prior to reconciling, a loud knock at the door shatters their peace and began a long night of terror.

A voice on the other side of the door asks: "Is Tamarah there?" James answers that she has the wrong home. This is only the beginning. Three strangers in masks are roaming the grounds around the house, slipping inside and out, tormenting the couple inside. Why are they doing this? The answer is bone chilling, not to mention found in the trailer, that answer is: "Because you were home." Wow. Doesn't get much creepier than that.

The Strangers is not about plot or character development. There is certainly enough to carry the film, but when it comes right down to it, this is a movie about chills and atmosphere. Writer/director Bryan Bertino delivers.

This movie is seriously creepy. Dread hangs on every moment of silence, fear of the unknown bites at your nerves, as you wonder just what is going to happen next. This atmosphere is something that Bertino does a wonderful job of delivering. The use of music, silence, and calm, all serve to ratchet up the tension. Watch as Liv Tyler's Kristen stands in the middle of a room and the masked face that emerges from the shadows and just watches her. Your skin will crawl.

There is something about this movie that gets under your skin. It is more than the fact that someone is breaking into your home, more than the fear of the dark, it is the way everything builds up. The fact that the attack is random, with no personal connections or genuine reason for it, it is terribly frightening.

All credit to Bryan Bertino in his first big screen effort. The ending is a bit of a misstep, but it is nowhere near enough to ruin the cumulative effect of all that has gone on before. He does a fine job in crafting a genuinely suspenseful thriller that pulls no punches.

Bottomline. Looking for something really creepy? This movie will definitely do it for you. Speedman and Tyler are a convincing couple going through a rough patch, only to be faced with this senseless act of violence. This will have you turning on all the lights at night, checking each room of your home, searching for uninvited guests.

Highly Recommended.


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