"The Strangers" Review
Lock the door and pretend you're safe.
"The film you are about to see is inspired by true events."
know what that means? It means a few things, actually. First, it means
the events you are about to see depicted on celluloid didn't happen at all
- at least not as one inclusive story. The film you are about to see
may contain an amalgam of factual events, while offering several
stylized and completely fictional scenes that the filmmaker has chosen
to enhance the story and make those true events even more frightening.
It's a great marketing tool that several classic films have used, such as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
While Leatherface didn't go on a killing spree in Texas with his
signature chainsaw, real killers such as Ed Gein and Charles Manson
inspired his blood-splattered cinematic debut.
This is the case with writer/director Bryan Bertino
's feature film, "The Strangers
," a truly terrifying film starring Liv Tyler
and Scott Speedman
In the vein of John Larroquette's iconic narration of "The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre," "The Strangers" opens with a similar, unsettling
advisory:"According to the
F.B.I. there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America
each year. On the night of February 11, 2005 Kristen McKay and James
Hoyt went to a friend's wedding reception and returned to the Hoyt
family's summer home. The brutal events that took place there are still
not entirely known."
The film's premise is, in fact,
inspired by a ‘true event' from Bryan Bertino's childhood, where a
stranger came to his home asking for someone. Later, he found out that
empty homes in the neighborhood had been robbed. With that memory in
mind, Bertino created his debut screenplay, which also borrows from
elements of the Charles Manson murders.
Soon after that disquieting advisory, we are introduced to Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler
) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman
a young couple who have just pulled up to the Hoyt summer home. It's
idyllic and isolated, perfect for a romantic getaway. As the opening
stated, the couple just spent the evening at a friend's wedding
reception, which prompted James to pop the question to his girl right
then and there.
The result, however, wasn't as planned. Kristen
crushed James's dreams when she confessed marriage wasn't in the cards
just yet. You get the idea that the car ride from the reception to the
Hoyt summer home wasn't a pleasant one. James is frustrated and Kristen
is beautifully broken with tears (and mascara) running down her cheeks
as they pull in the driveway.
After coming to an amicable
resolution about what to do with the rest of the weekend, Kristen takes
a bath while James loosens his tie and drowns his sorrows with ice
cream. After she finishes her bath, Kristen joins James in the kitchen
where their conversation is interrupted by a knock on the door. It's
4:05 a.m. and they're in the middle of nowhere, who could be on the
other side of the door?
James reluctantly answers the door only
to find a young blonde teenaged girl who simply asks, "Is Tamara
there?" James explains that she must have the wrong house, and that
Tamara isn't there. The girl asks, "Are you sure?" and it's at this
moment that you know something isn't quite right.
down from the slightly creepy incident that just happened, James runs
to the store to get some cigarettes for Kristen, as she can't sleep
without them. Kristen is left in a home all alone, and is startled once
again by a knock on the door. Kristen doesn't dare open it, but asks,
"Who is it?" The reply is, "Is Tamara there?"
The chills start
their slalom up and down my spine. It's at this moment where I said to
myself, "It's just a movie." I tried to force this realization into my
brain, along with the facts about ‘true events' but was unable to
resist being fully engrossed by the film's excruciatingly ambient
James eventually returns to the house with
cigarettes in hand to find Kristen in a panicked state. She explains to
James that someone must be in the house and that strange girl asking
for Tamara visited her once more.
Unfortunately for James and
Kristen, the knocks at the door and strange noises outside are only the
beginning. We soon learn that two other strangers who insist on wearing
strange masks join the girl. One, a young woman, is decked out in a
"Pinup Girl" mask while the man, complete with suit and tie, is wearing
a burlap bag over his head.
The events that follow, while not
entirely true, are completely terrifying. I haven't been this truly
scared (and satisfied) with a horror movie since I was just a kid,
watching movies I wasn't allowed to see late at night on cable.
this is his first full-length feature, Bertino masterfully uses
atmosphere, and ambient sound to create a tangible sense of fear. The
deliberate stillness and silence of the film heightens the thunderous
knocks and slamming doors. The pacing builds in conjunction with the
suspense, elevating the watcher to a whole new level of horror.
"The Strangers" isn't that original. It feels a lot like John Carpenter's "Halloween
" and the aforementioned "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
and most recently "Funny Games."
There are a lot of horror clichés peppered throughout the film, like a
girl grabbing a butcher knife from the kitchen drawer, but each one is
done so well it feels less formulaic and more like an homage.
its inherent inspiration from true events and those old horror
classics, "The Strangers" is a masterful exercise in creating fear with
nothing more than atmosphere. There are no cheap tricks in this movie,
and Bertino goes to great lengths to make you care for the characters
and keep you involved with the peril playing out on the screen.
my viewing experience of "The Strangers," screams and gasps littered
the theater like bits of buttered popcorn stuck to the floor. Every
bone in my left hand was pulverized to dust as my girlfriend, who isn't
so fond of horror movies, proceeded to squeeze my hand without mercy
throughout every scene.
I certainly recommend "The Strangers"
for anyone in search of a good scare, and especially those horror
lovers out there. It's a real horror film, and the scariest thing is
that there aren't more of these movies anymore. We're too busy
overdosing audiences with buckets of blood and gore and cutting corners
around storytelling and suspense.
By Adam Frazier