Movie Review: The Strangers

By Matthew Huntley

June 2, 2008

Look, when you wear the mask, you look too much like my Dad.

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The Strangers is one of the most fluctuating horror movies I've seen. On one level, it wants to be penetrating and earnest, perhaps wanting to serve as a commentary on violent crimes. On another, it submits to the antiquated cliches of the genre and becomes just another slasher picture. In the end, it steps into a realm of undeserved disturbance, becoming a pure exploitation of our visceral emotions. This might have worked had it stayed its initial course of action, but I think it cheats and throws in the ending without having rightly earned it.

When it begins, a bass-voiced narrator, who for some reasons speaks the same words as the on-screen text, informs us, "The following is inspired by true events," and gives us a spiel about violent crimes. Of course, this is all just meant to scare and excite us, but we allow it. The actual plot kicks in when two Mormon boys, handing out fliers, approach a house where the door is wide open and the furniture is displaced. Inside, the record player still spins and a blood-stained kitchen knife sits on the floor.

Cut to a young, 30-something couple - James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler), who sit quietly in their car waiting for the light to turn green. They're coming from a wedding reception and returning to James' family home, which is in the woods out in the middle of nowhere


Without directly stating it, we learn Kristen has just turned down James' marriage proposal. Writer-director Bryan Bertino does a good job of showing and suggesting the couple's feelings rather than telling us through dialogue. As James and Kristen begin to heal their relationship, which in this case means making love, a loud knock is heard at the front door. It's a blonde-haired woman, whose face isn't visible because the porch light is out. She leaves.

When James decides to go out for some cigarettes, the blonde woman and her pulsating knock return, only this time she's not alone. She has two accomplices - a man and a woman. All three wear creepy masks. Word to the wise: always install a peep hole on your front door. You never know when you'll want to actually see the psychopaths trying to break into your house.

James returns and the couple finds themselves under attack. The three intruders seem to want to kill just for the sake of killing. When Kristen asks why they're doing this, the blonde tells her, "Because you were home." James and Kristen's night of hurt feelings and reconciliation turns into a fight for survival, and one of the things the movie gets right is it doesn't turn them into action heroes. They find themselves in a dilemma no one ever expects to be in (Kristen repeatedly mutters to herself, "This isn't happening."). It was a nice touch by the screenplay that James didn't know how to use his father's shotgun. "I thought you used to hunt with your father," Kristen says. He replies, "It was just something I said."

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