Rated R for violence/terror and language.
Written and Directed By: Bryan Bertino
Staring: Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler
One of the scariest movies of the past decade? The Strangers makes the top five easily. Filmmaker Bryan Bertino wasn’t afraid to utilize elements of terror that have paved the way for horror, while integrating his own unique touch with characters and storytelling, proving that sometimes less is truly more. The intensity Strangers displays often lacks in today’s cinema and the fear of realism is impossible to escape. The opening credits are clever giving you insight on how things are going to turn out, and yet that only escalates the sense of danger already imminent. With no shocking unveiling or explanations, Bertino delivers a raw sense of fear showing how an unknown force can at anytime be sent to destroy your life. The Strangers is too realistic to not inspire some kind of uncomfortable reaction and at the very least makes you contemplate whether or not this could happen to you.
The story centers around the couple, played by Scott Speedman our resident werewolf and Liv Tyler best known for playing an Elf princess in Lord Of The Rings. In true horror cliche form the couple would be on a honeymoon or secret getaway, but that’s hardly the story at all. The two certainly aren’t happy go lucky in love and are struggling with their relationship, even though everything in the surrounding settings would seemingly dictate otherwise. The immediate intimacy of their relationship and lack of dialogue kind of sucks you in, and whether you’re willing to indulge or not, the realism of their relationship just kind of grabs you. Sure this is advertised as a horror flick, but the intensity of what’s happening to them almost distracts you from the fact that something is eventually going to go “Boo” and scare you. The “Boo’s” do eventually come, and though some of the moments and sequences are grounds that have been trekked heavily before, the connection to the characters and their isolation incites a feeling of extreme anxiety.
The pacing is all over the place, but it at least keeps the element of surprise open. Even the moments that do pan out predictably aren’t so bad that you are annoyed like a lot of films in this genre incite. The Strangers is short, to the point, and with a level of realism that really makes it work. Tyler and Speedman really work well together, making the dynamics of their relationship seem entirely plausible. I’m no fan of Liv Tyler nor Scott Speedman, but you forget who the actors are and care about who the characters they are portraying are. Because the characters are the driving force they made all of the elements where their lives were in peril feel like full on terror.
What plays most well is the fact that these main characters aren’t stupid. They try to escape, they try to fight back, and they try to hide. They do what most sentient beings would do, and each time when their plans to avoid the inescapable doom before are foiled it is frustrating even though that first scene lets you be privy to the fact that they aren’t going to escape, which in turn makes all those moments more terrifying because you are waiting for them to get caught.
Never a fan of the kind of scary that makes you jump or screech, there is plenty of that here for those that are into it. It’s too obvious to me and just doesn’t illicit the same intense fright. If anything it detracts from it. For a film that battles more psychologically with your fear, some of those moments seemed unnecessary and out of place, though did manage to keep you distracted enough not to think too far ahead into the story.
The Strangers is a horror film meant for a thinking kind of audience, though has enough typical scary elements to appeal to a more general audience. While it felt like that took away from some of the story it does make it more appealing to a mainstream audience. The way this film should be viewed is alone, late at night when all is quiet, and in the dark. It couldn’t have had the same personal touch in the theatre nor with a group of friends with the light on. For a great Halloween scary watch, have a date night with yourself, turn out the lights, forget to lock your doors, and I guarantee you that you will cautiously pause it halfway threw just to go lock them and take a nervous peek outside your windows. That’s how this movie deserves to be watched, otherwise it may just be another horror movie. Get in the spirit and have fun being scared!