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The Strangers Review

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by AVForums Feb 14, 2009

    The Strangers Review

    “The Strangers” is a movie inspired by true events that occurred on the night of February 11th 2005 involving Kristen McKay and James Hoyt. According to the opening credits FBI statistics show that there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in the US every year. I have to say that I'm a sucker for “real life” movies (such as the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) and the monologue at the beginning of “Strangers” immediately got my attention. “Strangers” is in the same ilk as Francophone flick “Ils” (“Them”) and comparisons can also be drawn to recent thriller “Vacancy”. This BluRay release contains both the Theatrical Version (1hr25mins) and the Unrated Extended Version (1hr27mins+added violence) which is the focus of this review.

    Director Bryan Bertino makes his directorial debut with “Strangers” and also penned the script, taking a very simplistic premise for “Strangers” and never straying from this base at any point during the movie. Also on board we have Liv Tyler (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “Armageddon”) alongside Scott Speedman (“Underworld” and “Underworld: Evolution”) who are present in almost every scene. Tyler and Speedman do a fine job of portraying the terror that they experience and are more than able for the job at hand. Tyler, in her first proper lead role, takes the Lion's share of screen time and during subdued moments manages to keep suspense at the forefront which is a key factor in making this type of movie work.

    As what I'd class to be modern psychological thriller, “Strangers” opens with the closing scenes of the movie, where the call to the police made by the finders of the terrible atrocity plays through the credits, cleverly teasing us with the carnage that awaits. The movie begins with Kristen (Tyler) and John (Speedman) returning from a wedding to the Hoyt family holiday home that is in a suitably isolated and remote location. Late in the night a stranger calls and after repeated failed attempts to warn this persistant caller off we see that the shadowed interloper is merely looking for a suitable victim. The plot then moves onto a hostage type situation with Kristen and James trapped in their own home by three masked intruders (said “Strangers”) who systematically cut all contact to the outside world. The premise of “Strangers” is that there's nothing worse than being a helpless prisoner in your own home (which is a sanctuary for most) and this fact is certainly realised here.

    Following the disturbing appearance of the first intruder inside the house after twenty five minutes it's a non-stop assault as the intruders attack and torment with cold, unrelenting malice. We see that the intruders are simply playing a game with their captive prey as they enter the house at will and leave eerie messages, coming into close contact with James/Kristen without letting their presence be known. This leads to numerous “Turn around, he's right behind you!” moments as the main characters wander around oblivious to the dangers lurking close by.

    Both James and Kristen are strong willed characters and James takes on the challenge of tackling the intruders which shows that modern day thriller victims generally don't run around aimlessly waiting to be killed. Almost all attempts that James and Kristen make to elude their captors are logical and when these fail it only serves to increase the desperate nature of their situation. This adds to the realism of “Strangers” and also gets us routing for James and Kristen as they attempt to escape from their homely prison.

    Gore is certainly not at the forefront of “Strangers” which I think was a wise omission, as the introduction of gore just for the sake of it never really works. There are some pretty gruesome shock scenes but these never seem forced or out of place. Rather than rely on blood and guts Bertino builds on the unrelenting, elusive and unseen terror of the intruders. They seem to be everywhere and have complete access to the house but still they chose to torment rather than attack - I found this more disturbing and engaging than a severed head or limb suddenly appearing on screen! The masked intruders are played by Kip Weeks, Gemma Ward and Laura Margolis but we never see the faces of these actors. Bertino also utilises a hand held camera effect when the audience is watching (presumably through the eyes of the intruders) Kristen/James. This slightly wavering, constantly moving camera work adds to the never stationary advance of the intruders which I found to be quite effective.

    The score is also used to great effect in “Strangers” with orchestral string and bass aspects really adding to some of the more suspenseful scenes. Ambient effects, especially the thunderous knocking on the front door and scurrying footsteps, also add to the ambience of terror. The record player that suddenly stops with accompanying intruder footsteps is an example of how Bertino cleverly lets the audience know that the intruders are inside the house in an audible but unseen fashion.

    Bertino really tries to ground all the proceedings in “Strangers” with an effort made to ensure that all aspects were as realistic as possible. By managing to steer clear of any massive clichés with a slightly non typical ending Bertino seeks to pave out his own perceptions of what a “terror” movie should be. While he does achieve this I'm afraid that it can be at the expense of the action at times but I do give him credit for not embarking on a gore fest halfway through the movie which would have been an easy transition to make.

    Overall “Strangers” makes a good attempt at taking a fresh look at the horror/thriller genre with a product that serves to offer thrills in a novel manner but ultimately I felt as though it lacked substance and was left wondering what the point was. Perhaps it's an attempt by Bertino to show that no matter how bad you think things are they can always get much worse and that sometimes horrible things can happen for no good reason or simply because you were home.

    An enjoyable thriller but really only a watch once movie