johnlink ranks THE STRANGERS (2008)

Still not entirely sure how I feel about THE STRANGERS. I can say that it offers more than your standard torture porn title (which it is not), but I also feel like it left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it was supposed to. In fact, I’m sure it was supposed to. Be warned, the following contains heavy SPOILERS…

THE STRANGERS is a film about a young couple in a secluded house being harassed by a group of masked villains.

I watched THE STRANGERS (2008) on 8.11.09. It was my first viewing of the film. Again, be warned, below is SPOILER HEAVY.



One thing which separates this film from others of its ilk, is that its creators have ideas. Big ideas. Director Bryan Bertino (in his debut film) is interested in making his audience squirm, and to play on our expectations. We know more than the victims do, and much of our anxiety comes from what we expect to happen. There is, however, a tendency to overuse these devices. The first time we see a masked killer in the background, watching his prey from the corner of the room, it is subtle and as close to a beautiful shot as a horror movie gets. When he backs out of frame, free of detection, we gasp as we realize he is toying with his little mouse. The sixth time this sort of thing happened, I was inclined to roll my eyes.

The idea here is that the killers are playing. They want to scare their victims before ending them. They want to make them scream, quiver, and cry. Bertino wants to do the same to his audience.

We are told this is ‘based on a true story’ and that the ‘real events are unknown’. The last shot of the film, revealing one of the victims to be alive, seems to belie the possibility that the events are ‘unknown’. Regardless, the scenes are supposed to scare us, to intimidate us. This isn’t violence as entertainment (i.e. the SAW films), which aims to make us squirm as we anticipate the next creative killing. THE STRANGERS is really not about the deaths at all, it is about anticipation.

My biggest problem is that the film does not have any hope whatsoever. It is bleak. The last shot feels like a studio intervention, a forced gimmick to provide us with some nominal happiness that someone may have survived. Instead, it feels empty, unearned.

I liked a lot about this film. I like how it was shot, how it was effected. I like that the characters (the lovers anyway) had a story beyond being SCARED VICTIM #1 and SCARED VICTIM #2. A lot of that gets lost once the scares get going, but we are invested more because of it.

I just wish I didn’t feel so empty at the end of the experience. SCORE: 7


The intensity one feels from watching this movie is visceral. As an audience we feel the anticipation even more than the characters do in some instances. The movie absolutely works on that level. But the ending causes a deduction for me. I’m all for bleak, but I just want purpose. Life is random enough without my movies’ killers shrugging and saying they killed people because “they were home”. SCORE: 6


Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman do some wonderful work. The first exchanges between them are real dramatic moments which usually are not found in horror movies of this breed. The killers don’t really do much. They rely on their masks for scares as they stand still and cock their head slightly to one side. The acting here is really done by the lead couple, and they are superb. The one other victim is bland. We know he is dead the second we see him. SCORE: 7


While the dialogue and the lead couple story is well above average, the actual meat of this movie is sometimes predictable, and the end is… well I’ve already talked about it. I think much of the anxiety the audience gets comes from the direction rather than the writing. That said, the script does its job in creating a scenario for these things to happen within. SCORE: 6


A record player provides the music, and it is perfect. At times ironic, at times cheery, at times haunting, the music is pitch perfect in this movie. SCORE: 1




FINAL SCORE: 6.75… which is both higher and lower than I would have thought.

~ by johnlink00 on August 11, 2009.

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