It doesn’t seem right to call The Strangers a horror film, because it’s atypical and not particularly scary. Yet if the events depicted in this movie were to actually happen, there’s no doubt you’d be traumatised for life. It’s a home invasion film, after all, which focuses on a young couple who are terrorised by three masked assailants.
I’ve always considered The Strangers to be quite underrated, because the premise is so simple, but brilliantly executed. The film forces the audience to engage emotionally with the two main characters right from the get-go. James (Speedman) and his girlfriend Kristen (Tyler), are having relationship difficulties, and they’ve been staying at a remote vacation home. It’s shortly after they arrive home from a wedding reception, that they get their first knock at the door. From that moment onward, the couple endure a deadly hide-and-seek game with masked maniacs, who are determined to see them suffer for no apparent reason.
Absolutely no information is revealed about the sinister trio. We don’t know who they are, where they came from, or even what they want. Bertino utilises a classic slasher trope by making the villains lack a clear motive. These monsters are no Michael Myers, or Leatherface, because they don’t get a backstory, so in many ways it’s a fresh take on the slasher movie, while still clearly tapping into the basic fear of being hunted.
The Strangers is very effective and there are some pretty creepy scenes. I know I said it’s not that scary, so yes I’m contradicting myself slightly, but still the creep factor is much more prominent than genuine scares. Liv Tyler is really convincing as a woman in serious distress, and Speedman is also solid in his role. Unlike other films about masked killers, The Strangers leaves no room for fun and humour, as the film is clearly committed to making the viewer feel as unsettled as possible. It’s cold and heartless, which is why films like the Scream franchise are so much more successful, because they balance terror with comedy, ensuring for a much more entertaining watch. Although I appreciate the fact that Bertino makes a film that taps into possible real-life situations, (bearing in mind the film is in fact very loosely inspired by an incident he experienced as a child), the end-result is actually quite depressing. But it’s still undeniably powerful and a film that will linger on your mind for sure.
The Strangers has a lot going for it. It’s character driven and an emotionally charged, but the simplicity of the story and frankness of its climax, could leave some some viewers dissatisfied. However, I believe it’s a worthy addition to any watch-list. It’s a controlled thriller that never tries to do anything overly complicated, but still manages to be an audience-grabbing delight.
Quoted: “Well they want something. People don’t just stand out there, staring at us like that. They want something.”
Directed and written by: Bryan Bertino
Stars: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Gemma Ward.
Distributor: Rouge Pictures
Run Time: 88 min
You might also be interested in my review of The Monster, also directed by Bryan Bertino, which you can read [HERE].