I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Strangers

Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman (Felicity) play a young couple who have come to town for a wedding and are staying at an isolated house Scott’s family owns. It’s a house with a long driveway and a lot of trees around, a place where people can get lost, he mentions. They’ve had a bad night and might be calling it quits with each other and then all the sudden, around 4 am, some girl knocks on the door asking for somebody they never heard of.

Out here? In the middle of nowhere? Where did she come from? Then Scott makes the mistake of going to buy cigarettes. While he’s gone the girl shows up again, and things start getting weirder. Basically this is the story of what happens when 3 people in Halloween masks show up at your house and try to get in, for unknown reasons.

The StrangersI gotta admit man, the setup on this thing really pushes my creep-out buttons. The first half of this movie is the most genuinely scary new horror movie I’ve seen in a long time. Rural areas at night – hell, even suburbs – those places creep me out. Because nobody’s supposed to be around. If you see a stranger nearby then you know they’re up to no good.

Out in the city it’s not a problem. I got drunks stumbling around all the time, sirens going by, people laughing or yelling at each other, that’s normal at any time of night. Not a big deal. In the city I can walk around in the middle of the night and there’s not much to fear. You’re not alone, there’s always cars driving around and a few people out. They’re very polite and ask you if you “need anything.” Not that long ago a dude tried to sell me a porno VHS while I was waiting to cross a street. You generally assume people will leave you alone or won’t give you too hard of a time. If they do they’re probaly some schizo or something, they’ll back off if you ignore them.

But a small town like that, somebody shows up on your property, how you gonna get rid of them? Where would they go? Even if you got them to leave you’d be paranoid they were still out there in the trees somewhere watching you. I don’t know, I got less experience there is why it creeps me out I guess. But in my experience you look out into your backyard and if you see something bigger than a cat moving you better get a weapon.

The genius of THE STRANGERS is the simplicity and the lack of Hollywooding it up. There’s very little scoring, the lighting is not exaggeratedly gothic, there are no skipped frames or show-offy edits or digital effects. The strangers don’t have super powers (except knowing how to disappear when your head is turned), they don’t have backstories or secret identities, and they’re not exactly committing a massacre either, which makes it seem more real and therefore more unsettling. Their favorite thing is not to try to stab you but to stand there and stare at you making you think they’re gonna stab you. The scares come from things like when Scott is in his car and feels a hand brush against him.

The instant classic moment of the movie is when Liv is standing in the kitchen and you see a dude with a bag over his head appear across the room. He just stands there and she never notices him. And he appears so subtly that I didn’t even notice him at first either. That is some seriously creepy shit. A good channeling of that original HALLOWEEN spirit.

The characters are unusually respectable. Nice to see a horror movie about regular adults (even if they’re pretty young ones) going through a relatable emotional trauma that I have not seen come up in any horror movie before. Of course they’re better looking than you or I, but they seem like regular people and aren’t trying to be hip or crack wise or nothin. They don’t grate on your nerves the way many horror characters do.

So I approve of this movie, it’s worthwhile. But I do have to admit it’s mainly the first half that’s good. It doesn’t ever turn stupid or anything, but the second half sort of loses its momentum. It’s an effective and original type of scares, but it’s mostly the same sort of thing happening over and over so it gets a little repetitive. It does have the good sense to be short and sweet – even in the extended unrated cut it was something like 88 minutes. So I don’t know if it could’ve been much tighter, but I think it could’ve been a more perfectly constructed machine. It revs up a powerful engine of spookiness but then it kind of sputters and wobbles instead of just hauling ass down the freeway and/or going off a jump. (metaphor)

THE STRANGERS is very similar to the French movie ILS, where a couple is harassed and stalked by barely-seen figures, possibly wearing hoodies. That one maybe had a little better build to it, but I think maybe I like this one slightly better. Nothing against the twist ending of ILS, but the straightforwardness of this one works a little better for me, it seems less farfetched. I do have to scold the marketing people though because this is yet another movie that feels the best way to begin is by calling us morons, expecting us to believe that it’s based on a true story. I guess the “true” part is that yes, there is in fact violent crime in the world. So they loosely adapted it from that. And they have a narrated opening crawl with the names of the characters and how what exactly happened is not known, etc. It’s especially stupid because they already have a good opening with a very real sounding 911 call, a kid reporting finding the bodies of the characters we haven’t even been introduced yet. I don’t see why you need anything before that. I know, I know, I love THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE too, but I think we’ve done the opening narration homage enough now, fellas. Time to stop. And I demand a letter of apology for the calling me a moron thing.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 11:18 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “The Strangers”

  1. Michael Mayket

    July 8th, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    I really liked this one. My only complaints are I think they could’ve cut the long sequence when she goes to shed to use the ham radio, and the end definitely should have been the one killer talking to the boys who find the bodies rather then continuing on to show the finding of the bodies.

  2. Man I really wanted to like this one since I’ve heard so many good things, but in the end I felt like I saw a different movie than everyone else. (Or maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind). There’s nothing terribly bad about the movie – it’s well shot, well acted, the pacing is surprisingly good for a home invasion movie (most of them run out of steam or get repetitive halfway through, while this one, at 80 minutes, never really drags). But I guess the thing that most people liked, the “mysteriousness” of the movie and lack of motive and character development for the killers, just came across as vague and underwritten. I don’t have a problem with killers with no motive (in fact I think alot of villains in movies don’t really have a motive), but what rubbed me the wrong way was that the villains didn’t seem particularly ingenious or devious, just kind of lucky, like most of their actions seemed to depend on the couple making a dumb decision like leaving their perfect hiding spot with a shotgun to run to a dark shack in the woods.

    I appreciate that there’s little gore and a low body count, but the lack of victims also means the villains spend the whole movie just teasing and playing with the protagonists – I know the idea is they could kill them anytime they wanted, but watching that unfold just isn’t as interesting as if the couple and the villains had a back-and-forth battle. I didn’t particularly like You’re Next, but at least that one had the killers doing SOMETHING of note, and the heroes fighting back. And yes, I know in Halloween, Michael Myers was also playing with Laurie and dicking around most of the movie, but at least he killed people and there was a fairly lengthy battle at the end. This one just has the villains making spooky noises and moving things around to freak the heroes out, and then *SPOILER* stabbing them like they could have done 12 hours ago. It’s different yes, but unfortunately came across as anticlimactic to me. Still, I’m glad people like this movie and I’m glad it was a big summer hit and set the stage for the Purge movies to be anti-blockbuster counterprogramming.

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