The Strangers involves a group of people whose sole purpose in life seems to terrify others, and attempt to creep out moviegoing audiences. At least, that’s what I gather from this film, because many acts are done just for our purposes, to make us feel scared. Take, for example, when one of these characters plays on a swing set, but in the next scene, she’s gone. This is pointless, except to make it seem like they’re more ghost-like than human.
We begin by meeting our two lead characters. Kristen and James (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman respectively) are coming home from a wedding reception. We find out through flashbacks that he proposed, and she declined, although why this point is made is still unclear to me. Nothing is ever done with it, and it doesn’t add any depth to these characters. They’re not fighting with one another, although they’re not talking much either. They get to their house, and begin discussing things. But then there’s a knock on the door. Someone’s there.
It turns out to be a girl who asks whether or not Tamara is home. They don’t seem too taken aback by this question, but respond by claiming that she’s got the wrong house. There is no Tamara here. “Are you sure?”, she asks, before having the door closed in her face. She comes back later, although this time, the door isn’t opened; the conversation takes place again, although it happens through the door, instead of face-to-obscured-face. The young lady goes away without finding this Tamara once again, but she stays on the street, staring at the house.
It’s at this point when we, and the two lead characters, realize that this is a horror movie. There ends up being three villains, all of whom have a face obscured by some sort of mask. They circle the house, jumping at the windows whenever one of our protagonists decide to look out one. And then they manage to find their way inside the house, and even more jump scenes occur. Sometimes they just stalk their victims without even touching them, while we look on and watch. But these scenes lead to nothing other than building tension — something that The Strangers ends up living on.
Apart from the red tinge that’s added to everything, this is a film that does a good job of building a mood. Everything’s dark (and red), we’re aware of the villains’ presence, but we’re not quite sure what they’re capable of. Since they can move at such a seemingly extraordinary speed, we don’t know when or where they’ll pop up next. And they have weapons, like axes or knives, although they, for the most part, seem unwilling to use them. And, oh yes, this is based on a true story, according to the words that appear at the very beginning. “Fun”, I thought. It was.
Why are these people being tormented? Kristen asks this twice, even if the best answer she can get is “because you were home.” That’s a great reason, as it shows just how insane the bad guys really are. It might also explain things like playing on a swing set before disappearing so that the swings always seem to be moving, or acting as creepy as possible. Maybe they get amusement out of it, just as much as we get thrills. Many horror movies get weaker the more you think about them; The Strangers becomes more fascinating.
Mention must also be made of the ending, which ends with the best jump scene I can remember. I actually jumped, and whether it was the movie screaming or the person next to me, I heard something high-pitched. My heart began pounding faster because I didn’t expect anything like what I got. Many jump scenes are set-up so obviously that you know they’re coming. This wasn’t one of them. Ending on the note that this film does gave me a better feeling about the film as a whole, because I reflected back on how well the setting and the mood worked in building suspense. This could have been a film that fizzled out and died quietly, but that’s not what happened — it goes down fighting.
It’s not, however, an amazing film, because of how many pieces aren’t there. The main characters are Mr. and Mrs. Everyman, having no distinct personality or back story, and not reacting all that well to the horrors that are about to befall them. Even the whole proposal thing seemed tacked-on and ends up being forgotten about. You might expect Kristen to change her mind about the rejection and find out how much she really does love James, but no, that doesn’t happen either. I’m thinking it was there to make it seem like writer/director Bryan Bertino cared about his characters, but this is a thinly-veiled disguise that was easy to see through, unlike the ones worn by our villains here.
The use of shaky-cam also got to me by the end. It does actually help build some immersion — and with horror movies, that’s always a good thing — but it was overused by a good ten or so minutes. The pacing was actually quite good, and apart from the uninteresting and unimportant back story, nothing seems like it’s gone to waste here. The home invasion premise could have easily taken up more time that it does, but instead, we end up with an 80-minutes-and-change horror film that actually delivers some scares.
The Strangers is a good horror movie that gives you what you want: Scary situations and characters. My heart was pounding for a lot of the time it was playing, and I ended up having a lot of fun, especially with the amazing final scene. While the shaky-cam did get to me, and the characters had pretty much no depth, I got what I came for with this film. It also gets better when I think about it, which is a good sign in my eyes. There are jump scenes galore here, but if you want a great film about a couple getting trapped in their house by three psychopaths, you’ve got it here.