Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Strangers (2008): or, Don't Be Home

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 22!

After a friend's wedding reception, hopeless romantic James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) proposes to his chain-smoking girlfriend Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler). Unfortunately she is just not ready for marriage and shuts him down hard, which turns the elaborate romantic weekend James has planned at his parents' isolated summer cabin a real Olympics of Awkwardness. Soon they have bigger fish to fry, however, as a mysterious girl keeps knocking at their door, at 4 am, asking for "Tamara." Later the knocks become loud bangs, the chimney gets blocked off, and someone not only cuts the phone line, but sneaks in and steals Kristen's recharging cell. As the creepiness and hostilities escalate, James and Kristen find themselves fighting for their lives against a trio of implacable killers whose motivations are as inscrutable as the faces behind their creepy, old-fashioned Halloween masks...

The Strangers (2008) does exactly what I believe it sets out to do--to unsettle the viewer, ramp up the tension, and send you home determined to buy new deadbolts for all the doors in your house--and does so very efficiently, with very little extra narrative fat. After a Laroquette-ish opening voiceover and a flash-forward "discovery" scene, we're thrown right into Kristen and James's uncomfortable arrival at the cottage, and from there things just get more tense. Tyler is a gifted actress, and brings her talents fully to bear on the role of Kristen, both in her sad, emotionally-troubled opening scenes and in her terrified, fighting for her life scenes at the end. Hoyt is fine as the shell-shocked beau suddenly called upon to protect the woman he loves. It's a testament to their skill as actors and the skill of director Bryan Bertino (working from his own script) that, despite being largely a 2-character piece, the flick kept my interest and never felt boring.

The trio of Killers are extremely creepy and menacing, at times seeming almost supernatural in their machinations and ability to walk in and out of the house at will, despite James and Kristen's best battening-down efforts. (In fact I was wondering for a while whether they were some kind of supernatural beings, but the ending has little in it to support that idea.) Their nightmare-fuel masks and the sing-song voice of Dollface, the only one who talks (Gemma Ward, I think) are sure to produce shivers. And Bertino's decision never to show their faces--even when they unmask themselves to James and Kristen--hammers home the idea of them as something more than run-of-the-mill psychopaths. They're almost symbols of all senseless violence and murder. When Kristen asks Dollface the usual question--"Why are you doing this to us?"--the killer's answer is chilling: "Because you were home."

A very creepy and well-made home invasion flick, The Strangers is not the feel-good flick of the year (though its ending is happier than it could have been, in a way), but it's definitely a tension-filled ride. 2.75 thumbs.

"I'm going to ask you this one more time: WHERE'S THE GODDAMNED BATHROOM?"


Thomas Pluck said...

I enjoyed this and felt it used scares well, but it fails because the protagonists are so incredibly stupid you lose empathy for them.

Drunketh said...

I hated this movie. Thought it totally sucked.

The Artist Formerly Known as J. Astro said...

I enjoyed it and thought it was effective. It's easy to critique someone's actions in a situation where you're watching it from the safety of your living room. But if anyone found themselves in the exact same circumstances, disoriented and unsure what was really going on or why, it may very well be a different scenario. I think you have to regard these films with a non-jaded eye, make an extra little bit of effort to place yourself in the specific situation or moment, instead of just drawing on the fact that we've all, as fans, seen a bazillion people murdered onscreen before.

Emily said...

I liked it well enough. A tad unsettled by the whole "It's a remake of Ils! No it's not!" confusion, but overall, just a tight and mean little slasher with great masks. Works for me.

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