Often times you’ll hear directors claiming that you have to be more innovative when they must work with a small budget versus the kinda money the studios lavish on the latest Marvel Superhero flick or Water World. Naturally you think they’re just full of it and trying not to seem ungrateful to their producers that scrapped together less cash than gets spent on craft service Rice Krispy Treats on The Avengers. But after a while you realize that having too much money can lead to bigger issues. The temptation to make everything huge or coated in CGI can destroy a script. It’s ok to be small and intense which is exactly what The Strangers pulled off. The film keeps up the pressure with a minimal number of actors and locations.
James (Animal Kingdom‘s Scott Speedman) thought he was going to have the night of his life. He takes his girlfriend Kristen (Leftovers‘ Liv Tyler) to a wedding with the simple plan that after a night of celebrating a marriage, she’d be thrilled to accept his ring. That magic moment goes pfft fast. Making things more awkward, instead of a hotel room, they’re staying in his childhood home since his folks are away. It’s a ranch house deep back from a country road. He had already prepared it for a yes. This makes things tense enough that he calls a pal to come pick him up in the morning since he doesn’t think she wants to ride back to their home city together. As things get tense, there’s a knock on the front door at 4 a.m. A girl on the front stoop asks for someone not there. She wanders off and promises to see them later. James can’t deal with the tension and heads out for a pack of smokes. While he’s gone, Kristen hears a bump outside. Turns out the girl never left and she has masked friends. James returns as the nightmare of the unwanted guests ratchets up. They aren’t going away and there’s little Kristen and James can do since the landline phone has been snipped and their cellphones aren’t working. Instead of mere relationship disappointment, the couple must find away to survive the night and longer.
There have been quite a few films about home invasion over the years. But The Strangers sticks out because the film at its base makes you care about Kristen and James. They’re not just numbers eager to join the bodycount. The disastrous proposal adds so much to their character and relationship. We’re not left with quickly assigned emotional tugs. There’s a weird conflict going on. You can say, “Why would he leave her alone in the remote house to get cigarettes.” But since it’s been such a messed up night, you don’t completely blame the guy for backing away for her. You don’t chalk that up to lazy filmmaking. It’s an emotionally real scene that gets magnified by the horror approaching. The tightness of restricting the action to the house and yard creates a thrilling crucible. The couple use every nook and corner to hide and fight the horrific trio. It’s been a decade since The Strangers was released and it has aged well. Perhaps the tightness of the budget kept the film from sprawling all over the place.
There are two versions of the movie on the The Strangers: Collector’s Edition boxset. The R-rated theatrical cut (85:10) and unrated uncut (87:34) aren’t too different except for two scenes. The unrated is best if you’re sharing the experience for late night viewing with a house guest.
The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer does a fine job of giving details in the dark night time scenes. You get a real sense of the house in the extra resolution. The audio is is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. You’ll hear bumps around your room. You might want to watch this with the lights on. The movie is subtitled.
Defining Moments (29:37) is a recent interview with director Bryan Bertino. He talks about going down to the videostore and grabbing the VHS boxes that had the scariest covers. He wrote the script and it had a scary ride through Universal and its various sub-studios before he was asked to direct. He read Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies a few months before the production. The film sat on the shelf for a year before it was released and became a hit.
All the Right Moves (11:34) gets to unmask Kip Weeks. He talks of taking a risk during the audition to get the role. He had to sing a classic folk song to get the role. He brought silverware. During the three months he worked on the film, he was staying in a Holiday Inn surrounded by chain restaurants off the highway. He originally thought they were shooting in Florence, Italy instead of South Carolina.
Brains and Brawn (13:44) speaks with Laura Margolis who played the Pin Up Girl. She talks about what she was during beneath the mask during the shoot. She originally was brought in to stand in for Liv Tyler during the auditions for another character.
Deep Cuts (20:29) splices away with editor Kevin Gruert. So much of what keeps the film feeling more expansive more than a one house flick is the pacing he created. He speaks of how they reshaped and rethought the film during post-production. He had worked on Saw films and took The Strangers when he thought Jigsaw had really died at the end of the third film.
Still Gallery (4:02) is full of productions pics and promotions shots.
The Element of Terror (9:12) takes us to the shoot with chats with cast and crew. Liv Tyler speaks about this is her first role where she had to scream. They show off the ranch house in the woods. They also built the interior in a nearby warehouse for the destruction moments.
Strangers at the Door (9:37) is director talking about how the film came from his paranoia that there was a real bump in the night. Liv Tyler started reading the script thinking it was a comedy and quickly learned it was not a laugh riot. We get to see the cast without their masks.
Deleted Scenes (4:56) includes more contemplating in the bathtub and flashbacks to the wedding reception.
TV Spots (1:34) shows the nightmare that can happen when there is someone out there.
Theatrical Trailer (1:11) sets up the fear of people who house hunt for the wrong reasons.
Scream Factory presents The Strangers: Collector’s Edition. Directed by: Bryan Bertino. Screenplay by: Bryan Bertino. Starring: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Glenn Howerton & Gemma Ward. Rated: R & Unrated. Running Time: 85 minutes. Released: March 6, 2018.
Tags: Liv Tyler, Scream Factory, The Strangers