Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Strangers (2008) Review

The Strangers
Why are you doing this? Because you people need some suspense.

Horror movies in recent memory haven’t had a good track record these days. We do get the occasional gem (the first Saw and The Descent) but for the most part we are bombarded by pointless remakes of 70s and 80s classics and endless sequels. Another factor seems to be the overuse of gore and jump scares in these movies. When used right, these elements combine to create a genuinely terrifying experience. But in the wrong way they could be seen as jumbled trash just trying to make a quick horror fix but no real impression. This makes me wonder if someone took a time machine and transported The Strangers to now because, for the first time in a long time, I’ve found a horror movie that places suspense and build up as its number one priority and gore is last.

Kristin (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are on their way to James’ family's summer cabin after a not worth celebrating event. James had just proposed to Kristin but she declined because she feels that this is all happening too soon. After arriving at the home to find many decorations, someone knocks on the door but it appears that they’ve found the wrong house. James then leaves for a while to get a drink leaving Kristin to think things through. But some strange occurrences happen until eventually the couple realize they are being stalked by a trio of masked intruders.


The beauty of what makes The Strangers work so well is in its pure simplicity. There are no meandering subplots or unnecessary complications to distract you from what’s at hand, namely pure horror. The movie goes on for long tangents where barely a line of dialogue is spoken, which helps pull us into the moment and feel the terror that our poor couple has to face. Director Bryan Bertino shows a remarkable amount of restraint by always teasing us at the right moments but without giving in to the impulse of letting the blood fly. Even in the final scene where the red stuff does appear, it isn’t done in an over the top way. In place of gore though is continuous suspense and tension, never losing its grasp on us and always enhancing the reality of the situation. There’s a Halloween-esque moment near the beginning of the stalking that is easily scarier than all the grotesque traps that Saw V came up with.

But of course, we cannot completely buy into the situation unless the actors commit themselves and they each do fine. Liv Tyler in particular, who I don’t normally like, plays terrified really well and has a great set of screaming pipes. Scott Speedman does fine too and does what the role requires him to do. Both of them play off the dramatic scenes in the beginning quite well and are more sympathetic than your typical horror victims. The three killers have some nice little touches too that make their remorseless characters even creepier. Kip Weeks, who plays the man with the sack, does wonders with his wide and ever searching eyes even in scenes where almost nothing is happening at the moment.


There are also a couple of the patent horror movie “dumb moves” scattered around, but given the circumstances some of these are forgivable. What The Strangers lacks in originality it makes up for with its suspense, direction, and genuine fear. I dare you to watch it somewhere that is somewhat remote.


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