I still remember my reaction the first time I saw the trailer for The Strangers (2008): Whoa. No way is that movie going to be as good as the trailer makes it out to be.
The reason I reacted that way has everything to do with the tendency for trailers to show all of the good parts, so you’re left with little to no surprises when you see the film in its entirety.
Welp, I can say with 100% certainty, this film is better than its trailer.
4 stars out of 5
I watched The Strangers, written and directed by Bryan Bertino, the Friday afternoon of its nationwide release at an AMC theater with my sister and brother-in-law, who, by the way, are not horror fans, and I had to beg and plead to get them to go with me.
You see, the last time I was able to convince them to go with me, it was for The Grudge (2004). I thought I might’ve worn out my welcome with that one, but I definitely did with this one. My sister won’t go to any more horror movies. She has vivid nightmares and a thing about someone getting stabbed, which is why she won’t watch them.
There was only about 15-20 people in the theater, the majority being between 25-45 years old; however, there was one woman in her early 30s with a boy under 13. Well, I guess he could’ve been older and vertically-challenged but I digress.
On with my review…
Not since Halloween (1978) has a slasher flick affected me as much as this one did. And by affected I mean waking up in the middle of the night thinking I saw a masked face in the shadows at the foot of my bed, and for the first time in 20 years, it wasn’t Michael Myers. Or, listening to a truck rev its engine outside my living room window and hesitating to look out the window for fear that it’d be an old Ford truck.
The chance to experience a prolonged sense of fear or uneasiness related to a fictitious story – even one “based on true events” – is one reason I love scary movies.
The Strangers does almost everything right in my opinion. It opened with a hint at the previous night’s horrible events. So I had a ton of questions and my guard went up: something bad happened and no matter what I was about to watch, no amount of wishful thinking, or talking to the screen, was going to help the characters or change the outcome.
The two main characters arrived at their country retreat, wearing formal attire, and attempted to deal with whatever situation brought their relationship to its current state of disarray. James and Kristen’s night unfolded as it would for any other couple in their relationship quandary except it was interrupted by psychopathic strangers with a sinister game to play.
I didn’t need the backstory because I could tell something bad happened between James and Kristen and they were barely holding it together. However, I appreciated the flashbacks a little further into the story because I had lots of questions I wanted answered. But my curiosity was piqued in the beginning and I had to keep watching to get those answers.
The film’s pace started out somewhat relaxed – even though the opening scene already had me on guard – then each scene continued to build on the previous, and the pace increased as it would if this had happened for real. I felt an overwhelming sense of dread because of the rubberband-like tension, which I knew had to snap at some point.
For all you gorehounds, there is not much of it in this film. A couple scenes were absolutely brutal for me but from a psychological, implied standpoint as opposed to the blood spurting all over the walls, in-your-face type.
The villains. Oh, the villains! Honestly, I haven’t been so jolted by such a simple costume – a mask – in years. And the fact that these are just psychopaths with no superhuman or supernatural abilities is scary as hell. I shivered when “The Strangers” revealed their reason for choosing James and Kristen that night. It’s the moment in the film when I realized the villains were pure evil and would never stop.
If you don’t like Liv Tyler or Scott Speedman then you will probably have a problem caring about their characters and ultimately connecting with the story. I’ve been a long-time fan of both so I felt an immediate connection to their characters. See Stealing Beauty (1996) and The 24th Day (2004), respectively, as prime examples of why I enjoy their work. Additional examples are available upon request.
If you don’t dig a psychological type of scare then you will probably have a problem getting into this film. What do I mean by psychological scare?
- If you’ve never experienced the sensation of goosebumps sneaking up your arm during a scene of complete silence, skip this movie.
- If you don’t feel panicked by the idea that you couldn’t fit under your bed – or wherever you sought solace – to hide from an intruder then skip this movie.
- If you aren’t freaked the eff out by the thought of a stranger in your home, standing a measly 10 feet behind you without you knowing it, yep, you guessed it, skip this movie.
My least favorite part of the entire film was the last 10 seconds. Yes, you read that correctly, seconds. I don’t know why the director, who’d used smart, engaging techniques up to that point, would use such a cheap Boo! tactic at the end. I know a lot of people won’t appreciate it, so hopefully they can forgive Bertino for the small error when compared against the overall film.
My favorite two components were the gritty texture of the cinematography, which reminded me of movies from the 70s, and the sound effects, both of which ratcheted the tension to an unbearable level.
The tension, my emotional connection to the characters, and the terrifying villains sent this film directly to My Favorites list.
Have you seen The Strangers? What did you think about it?
You can purchase The Strangers on DVD from Amazon.