- refuses to clean up her room.
The beginning has that good ol' horror movie promise with narration and "inspired by true events" facts straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Strangers keeps the suspense up and will undeniably creep you out. (The sound of a knock on a door might never be the same for you again.)
Kristin (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are back from a party early because Kristen has re-buffed James' marriage proposal and they're in a sad quandary as to what to do next. Staying at his folks' remotely situated house, they receive a knock at the door from a seemingly lost girl. They send her on her way and the trouble begins. Knocks turn into pounds, windows break, and masked figures begin to appear. (Props go to the creepiest masks ever: doll-face and pillow-head.)
I assume we are supposed to be frightened right along with the characters, but it's more voyeuristic, as we watch them being accosted by bad things. The "what-will-happen-next" and "jump-at-you-from-out-of-nowhere" scare-tactics prevail.
This is another movie wherein everyone is retro-cool enough to listen to vinyl. But then again, how else could a director get that cool record skipping effect to set a scary scene? The soft-lensed cinematography gives it a nice and warm look-the polar opposite of what the characters are feeling. The acting is OK; everyone acts duly frightened out of their wits. On the flipside, they're calm and rational when forced to keep their wits about them. Even Speedman is pretty darn deft with his character and Liv is good with the "why us ...why... why?"
First-time director Bryan Bertino draws from some obvious influences: The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Ils, Straw Dogs, and even the original Halloween. He maintains a real dread and terror edge-of-your-seat ambiance. But the movie is most easily compared to the recently released Funny Games, another film in which people are victimized in a remote house setting. Whereas Games intentionally over sensitized the viewer, Strangers wants you to take the ride with the characters in fear mode. There are, however, some genre-busting scenes that really work. One effective scene shows the pillow-head dude taking a break from the chase while Kristen cowers in a closet listening to his asthmatic breathing. The old scary movie conventions are deconstructed and re-invented in refreshing and sick ways - no cut phone lines, rather a cell phone is chucked in the fire; instead of a flat tire, there is a busted windshield and burning car.
The movie ends too soon after the disturbing buildup to the inevitable sadistic slaughter. Then the rip-off. Right when the director had a chance to give us a little more info on the three masked characters, he stops short. Any explanation could've worked: psychotic hillbilly inbreeding, a kooky cult, a demented family, or a wacky prank gone awry. Anything would've provided more entertainment and less frustration.
In the end the generic horror movie finale, had me shaking my head muttering to myself, "I can't believe I almost bought the whole thing."
Come to think of it, I'm pissed off at The Strangers for all the SAME reasons everyone else will be.
The Strangers ★★✩✩✩
Starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman. Directed/written by: Bryan Bertino