The Strangers (2008)
The Strangers (2008)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.

Release Date: May 30th, 2008 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Bryan Bertino Actors: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Glenn Howerton

 


 

F

or every unique and creative idea implemented in “The Strangers,” there is an equal amount of missteps and rehashed concepts scattered throughout. The very premise borrows heavily from Michael Haneke’s 1997 thriller “Funny Games,” even if the approach offers several new methods. Horror fans may be pleasantly surprised to find “The Strangers” relying on inventive scare tactics and a sadistic sense of purpose, though gorehounds will be dismayed at the lack of free-flowing viscera and the relatively small amount of actual onscreen bloodshed.

Recently estranged couple Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) arrive at their friend’s remote country home in gloomy spirits after an unexpected turn of events at a wedding reception. Things get even worse when a seemingly lost, young girl continues to antagonize them during what they hoped would be a peaceful retreat. And that’s before three masked strangers arrive to really begin terrorizing the stranded twosome…

Perhaps with the horror genre more than any other, it seems that everything has been done before. The trick then might be to reintroduce the audience to a style of horror they’re familiar with but under a new light or with a glossy coat of unexpectedness. “The Strangers” begins, as many do, with a written epilogue sprawling out murder statistics and the foreboding message that what viewers are about to witness is based on true events. From there, the two main characters’ plight plays out as anticipated, especially as it becomes obvious that there are only so many outcomes for the fate of so few potential victims. But what sets “The Strangers” apart from many recent releases is its method of building suspense. Rather than relying on copious amounts of gore, or the tiresome jump scares that permeate every scene in lesser fare, here the camera focuses on the protagonists while allowing the object of fright to slowly creep into frame, or lie dormant in the background to await an opportune time to strike. Seeing the antagonists patiently drive the outwitted duo insane blankets the film in pervading unease and a moody dementia.

Similar to the problems 2007’s “Vacancy” faced, “The Strangers” only utilizes two main heroes. Not every horror film requires a high body count, but the possibilities certainly diminish and the conclusion becomes far too predictable. Director Bryan Bertino gives Kristen and James plenty of opportunities to break free from the standard setup, yet their advantages quickly disappear as they fall into the genre rut of making too many mind-numbingly bad decisions. Being alone (or injured and alone) certainly adds a chilling predicament when the hunt is on, but both characters make such blatantly stereotypical horror movie no-no’s that the audience is more likely to scream at their stupidity than the fear caused by their pursuers.

Unfortunately, the initially amusing scares and ominous villains only last for so long. As the plot unfolds, it loosens its grip on dread and supports itself on the panic caused by idiotic judgment. At first, Bertino’s debut effort feels refreshingly original, but once the good ideas run out to reveal the generic thrills underneath, “The Strangers” feels all too familiar.

– Joel Massie

  • 5/10