Sunday, June 01, 2008


Written and Directed by Bryan Bertino
Starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman

Kristen McKay: Why are you doing this to us?
Masked Stranger: Because you were home.

Before writer/director, Bryan Bertino’s debut film, THE STRANGERS commences, a peculiar voice narrates the text that appears on the screen. Apparently, there have been over 1.4 million violent crimes investigated by the FBI. It isn’t clear whether James Hoyt and Kristen McKay’s story is inspired by one particular real event - whether these two individuals that we are about to watch be mentally and physically tormented for hours in fact existed in real life, or whether this story is just an amalgamation of many horrifically tragic experiences all smashed into one for dramatic effect. Either way, the vague implication that this may have actually taken place is essentially unnecessary as the situation these two innocents find themselves in would have been frightening one way or the other.

I don’t remember the last time I saw a “scary” movie. I tend to avoid them as I don’t need anything else in my life to disrupt my sleep and it has also been my experience that the majority of these films are rushed efforts that rely on quick and easy startles to satisfy the crowd. Though some of these expected thrills give THE STRANGERS some of its more jumpy moments, it is the underlying randomness of the events that keep the uneasy tone lingering long after its close. Having returned home from a disappointing and potentially devastating evening, troubled couple, Hoyt & McKay (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) realize that they don’t know each other as well as they thought they did. The strangers sharing a bed in the secluded Hoyt summer home needn’t fear each other though as much as the strangers lurking in the surrounding woods. Finding themselves in a position that would drive anyone to panic, the two go between the offensive and the defensive, as well as inside and outside the home. Just like the fright flicks I remember, these two make decisions that seem utterly ridiculous while I sit safely watching from afar, which only drives my panic higher and my hands tighter over my eyes.

It is Bertino’s subtle and oddly gentle style that makes THE STRANGERS such an effective experience. Strange sounds seem to be coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once while the sinister trio of masked tormentors ominously appear from and disappear into the shadows at random intervals. They don’t know when or from where the next scream will come from and that is the last thing you need when you think you’re in the safety of your own home. By attacking the audience’s basest of fears, Bertino has simplified the genre. He has crafted a thriller that isn’t bogged down in explaining the face of evil or concerned with upping the gore factor. Subsequently, there’s a lot more time left over to just scare the crap out of everyone.


Anonymous said...

The Strangers has some similarities to Funny Games (primarily, violence without cause or emotion). A comparison in your review would have been appropriate.



Black Sheep said...

Hey Dan .. I haven't seen FUNNY GAMES yet but I'll be sure to check it out when it comes out on DVD this week. Thanks for reading!

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