The Strangers – Review

Who are these people?

Director: Bryan Bertino
Notable Cast: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman
Somewhere in the midst of all the brutal chaos, The Strangers performs a strange kind of magic trick: it makes the viewer wish for a plot device. The wish is not inspired by the fact that there is essentially no plot, no the reason one begins to long for something (anything) different to happen is because what Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman (as well as the viewer) are subjected to feels a little too real.

Forget about the suggestion that The Strangers is based on real events (as always a debatable selling-point); even if something like this had never happened it very conceivably could. That is the thought that is truly haunting. Director Bryan Bertino knows that and it is almost as if the atmosphere he creates is in each viewer’s mind rather than up on screen. For a horror film, The Strangers uses a surprising amount of restraint to maintain an intense sense of immediacy that is probably the closest Hollywood has come to a snuff film in recent memory.

Indeed it is no accident that I suggested that Tyler and Speedman are the ones suffering rather than their characters as their motives and personalities are inconsequential. As if to drive home the profoundly hateful notion that it doesn’t matter who they are, Bertino gives them a back story that becomes just as meaningless and far away to them as it is to their tormentors. After all, if these faceless ghouls plan to murder Tyler and Speedman just for the hell of it, what difference does it make to them that Tyler denied a marriage proposal from Speedman earlier in the night?

That the answer to that question is that it doesn’t make any difference is the reason The Strangers is so difficult to watch. It becomes apparent that the reason the audience wishes for a plot twist, new characters, or precious daylight is so that they can make sense of what is happening on screen. But it never does. Films like Saw or Hostel are fairytales, pleasant bedtime stories, compared to The Strangers. The sick feeling in the pit of your stomach is never alleviated by a happy ending, or even a rational one. The Strangers ends as expected, but why do we expect it to end that way?

It does not seem the least bit reasonable to believe that there are people out there that would or could see such a horrific vision through to the bloody end, but apparently there are. It makes it nearly impossible to look at The Strangers as a piece of art or entertainment. It is too disturbingly realistic to be much fun.

However, it is easy to identify the film’s outstanding qualities. Bertino wisely uses wide angle shots to give The Strangers that familiar horror feeling, but the scares rarely come when or where they are expected. Bertino’s superb use of diagetic sound plays a large role in building suspense as well. Rarely is a horror movie able to create genuine scares and suspense, but The Strangers excels at both.

The fact remains that it is nearly impossible to watch. Whether that makes it a quality film or not is up for debate, but I do know that The Strangers is a relatively fresh presentation of stimulating concepts. Horrifying as they are.