Movie Review for The Strangers (2008)

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Review #647 of 365
Movie Review of The Strangers (2008) [R] 90 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $11.00
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When Seen: 30 May 2008
Time: 11:10 am
DVD Release Date: 21 October 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
After the Credits: there is nothing after the credits
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: Download now from Tomandandy - The Strangers - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Bryan Bertino (debut)
Written by: Bryan Bertino (debut)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Alex Fisher (debut) • Peter Clayton-Luce (debut) • Scott Speedman (Underworld: Evolution) • Liv Tyler (Reign Over Me) • Gemma Ward (Pink Pyjamas) • Kip Weeks (Glory Road) • Laura Margolis ("Dirty Sexy Money") • Glenn Howerton (Crank)

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Click to read the spoiler points for The Strangers
The Strangers debuted the same weekend of 2008 as Sex and the City apparently with the marketing strategy, "If you cannot beat them, join them," meaning there's probably not a week in the year when The Strangers would be able to hold the number one spot for Box Office results, so why not just pick the thick of things, right after Chronicles of Narnia 2, Indiana Jones 4, and Sex and the City: the movie and hope for the best. If that doesn't sound brilliant to you, well, maybe there's a job for you at a major motion picture studio marketing department available on (unsolicited plug). Worse, if you're a fan of the psycho horror drama genre and have seen all of these films before, well, you're going to scratch your head as you endure Bryan Bertino's writing / directing debut pondering how he got funding for this recycled film plot. His story, according to the opening sequence, is based on real events. Viewers of Funny Games (which had the superlative acting) and/or Vacancy (which had the superlative plot) will probably surmise the film is based rather on these two pre-existing films which share an astonishingly similar number of plot points. [editor's note: Imagine Kate Beckinsale's conversation with Underworld co-star Scott Speedman when he phones to tell her about the cool new movie he's been filming only to have her gasp and ask him to rent her film Vacancy. Scary stuff.] Being on the short side of both the plot and the acting versus the other two films would have to place The Strangers on bottom rung of this genre ladder, one would think. Actually, of the three films, though, it turns out that The Strangers—which, by the way, has to be one of the worst titles of the year when it comes to capturing what this film is—is by far the most scary and harrowing of the three films and probably the most psychologically terrifying from the long-lasting point of view. If you find yourself unable to sit in the dark theatre alone for the entire length of the ominous closing credits, well, don't consider it a black mark on your bravery chart as there are few people who could make it through. No film in recent or gradually fading long-term memory has really spooked me as deeply as this one. And it's simple, non-gory, mostly noise-oriented, pop-out from the closet type of scares. The soundtrack by tomandandy is half of what makes the film work when it comes to stirring up dramatic tension because, really, not that much happens.

The basic idea of all three films is that a couple (in Funny Games the couple has a young son too) show up at an isolated refuge and are subsequently terrorized by people who mean to do them imminent psychological and physical harm mostly for their own pleasure and enjoyment thriving on their fear. Vacancy had the best explanation for the terrorizing, and Funny Games had the better, more clever and inventive terrorizers, but The Strangers again wins out for simplicity—three unknown people wearing variously terrifying masks: a gunny sack with eyes and a mouth hole, and two doll faces with the eye holes out larger than life. It's too bad the poster reveals two of these masks to the viewing public vastly weakening their future power. [editor's note: By the way, a better title would have been "Because You Were Home"—post your own suggestions or find out why the editor made this note on the spoiler page.]

This film, if you can make it all the way through, is guaranteed to creep you out.
In the case of The Strangers, the couple (and, by the way, in all three films, the couple's are oddly distant or quarreling man and wife or man and girlfriend) is made up of James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) who show up at his father's semi-rustic vacation home on the eve of his failed marriage proposal. She simply isn't ready, and he's embarrassed to have not read her better. Having previously arrived and arranged a romantic welcoming for her from scattered rose petals to bubbling bottles of champagne, each small token of love she discovers now rubs salt in his wounds. He phones his best friend, Mike (Glenn Howerton) to come pick him up in the morning feeling that now the two should not head off on a romantic road trip. She's disappointed in herself probably wondering why she loves him so much but cannot yet commit to marriage. All of this moping, however, is abruptly interrupted by a heavy knock at the door. A young blonde woman stands there helpless and claiming to be looking for her friend. They shoo her off, thinking nothing of it. When Kristen runs out of cigarettes, however, and he leaves to get her a pack, the torment will begin, and it won't end well.

Borrowing some pages from the great master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, Mr. Bertino seems to get that true terror need not be bloody. It need not be wickedly tortuous. Both men achieved true suspense and horror with simple elements like, in this case, a broken record that keeps playing the same snippet of music over, and over, and over, and over again. Some of the terrorizing methods used are straight out of Vacancy, though, as the three assailants bang on various walls and windows outside the house. All of this plunges Kristen into a frenzy of panic and fear. Things only get worse, however, when James returns, doesn't believe her, and pays the price in a most fatal of ways. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are good in their roles. Neither has to be particularly good, though, to make this film work for the achievement of success is measured rather by how much you as a viewer are transported into the experience and begin to see shadowy figures in the corners of the theatre. While all three masks are spooky, the gunny sack head has to be most vividly memorable of all, and one that will certainly emerge as the favored for this Halloween like Jason's goalie mask of yesteryear.

In the end, The Strangers works excellently as psychological suspense and terror film effecting a deep and lasting sense of fear in the viewer. It's one major flaw, though, was it lacked the Hitchcock Psycho twist that could have made it the surprise horror hit of the year and a junior masterpiece. [You can read suggestions for a killer twist that would have made this film on the spoiler page or post your own as well.] This film, if you can make it all the way through, is guaranteed to creep you out.

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Cast Members
Alex FisherPeter Clayton-LuceScott Speedman
Liv TylerGemma WardKip Weeks
Laura MargolisGlenn Howerton
Bryan Bertino
Bryan Bertino
CD Soundtrack

Review-lite The Strangers (2008) [max of 150 words]
Borrowing most of the plot from Vacancy and Funny Games, Bryan Bertino's The Strangers has neither the quality of acting of Funny Games nor the better plot of Vacancy; and, yet, it's by far the most effective of the three when it comes to actually scaring the daylights out of you. With little gore and tomandandy soundtrack, The Strangers will leave a lasting impression of fear if you can sit through until the end—a worthy challenge of your bravery. This is a simple film of inexplicable terror, that will grip you and offer no solace in the end. If only debut writer/ director Bertino had conceived and planted a Hitchcock Psycho twist, though, he would have had a suspense masterpiece on his hands.

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matt the stranger said...

I wanted to see the movie, but my wife was so creeped out from the preview, she won't go!

So now, I have to wait for the DVD....your review bout it being kind of poor with acting, but still horrifying is definitley encouraging!

Anonymous said...

u have 2 c it in theaters!! it is so much scarier in theaters! the big screen and everything!! I DID!!! AND IM ONLY 14!!

Anonymous said...

This movie was a complete disappointment. I watched it all the way through the credits, and my reaction, and my wife's, was "that was a big let-down." It could have ben something quite good, but it wasn't. Vacancy wasn't that great either, but it was far superior to this. How many times do we have to get treated to the "stupid victims' mistakes" syndrome? Liv Tyler's repetitive screaming and bimbo idiocy only made it more irritating.