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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We've seen movies like this before - Last House on the Left, Funny Games, Vacancy - and all of them were about couples in a horrific crisis. The Strangers is no different, but there are times when it distinguishes itself from its brethren, especially with the scenes leading up to the strangers' invasion. The opening is well-paced and effective. Bertino, through a minimal use of sound, creates a genuine sense of desolation and uncertainty between the two main characters. He gets us to sympathize with them.

Credit should also be given to the production, art and set designers for making the house look real and lived-in. So often in horror movies, the set is defined by extreme qualities that make it look like it's either a model home being displayed for potential buyers or a complete dump. This house, with its old books, tchotchkes, wood-frame television set, and several shoe boxes in the closets, is more authentic.

But the movie's established authenticity gets diluted by standard horror conventions - loud shrieks and crescendos on the soundtrack; a hand reaching from behind to touch somebody on the shoulder; the helpless female in distress, who of course trips and falls just as she's able to make a run for it; the image of the killer in one shot who's suddenly not in the next, etc. You know the drill.


If you're going into this movie craving sheer terror and suspense, you will find some. Not a lot, but some. There were instances where I could not look away and found myself squeezing the arm rests on my chair in pure, anxious anticipation. One involved Kristen finding her way back into the house and hiding out in the pantry closet. She looks through the door and waits for the killer to leave. But these moments are short-lived and deflated by the horror banalities that bored me, which isn't good for a movie with such a short running time.

As for the ending, well, it might have fit had the movie stayed its initial course. I won't reveal what happens, but will say it's not pleasant to watch. No horror movie is meant to be pleasant, I know, but the gruesome ending here seems meant for the kind of serious film The Strangers starts out as, not the by-the-numbers, silly one it eventually becomes. The scene is brutal, raw and uncompromising. It reminded me of a similarly grotesque scene in Zodiac.

But how can we accept this when so much of the movie feels artificial and routine, a trait that's accented by a ridiculous and rather insulting final shot? The Strangers had me more than once, and it will likely please die-hard fans of the horror genre, but it lost me when it steered away from what it initially set out to do and settled on being ordinary.

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