The Strangers (2008) Review

10 out of 10 Skulls
Written by: TerrorCorner   

"We tell ourselves there's nothing to fear.  But sometimes we're wrong..."

Such is the tagline for "The Strangers"... and absolutely right.

Kristen and James arrive at their isolate vacation home after attending a friend's wedding.  While James is out, Kristen responds to a woman knocking at the door asking for "Tamara" by telling her that nobody by that name lived there.  Once James returns, a deadly game of cat and mouse begins with the strangers...

This movie was inspired by events in Director Bryan Bertino's childhood where a stranger knocked on his door asking for someone who wasn't there... and found out later that several houses in the neighbourhood had been broken into.

This is old school horror at its finest.  It's simple, elegant, and downright scary.  It plays perfectly on our assumptions that we're "safe" in our own homes, taking a supposed haven- and turning it into a nightmarish playground for people we don't even know.

"The Strangers" builds up the mood, the suspense, the anticipation of great and terrible things with deft strokes of the director's brush and palette.  The rusty hues of the sets, costumes and lighting creating an almost oppressive sense of futility and inevitability that contrasts with the discordant notes of frivolity supplied by the choice of music played.  The shadows hide the horror, and the light does little to reveal it.  The evil can be anywhere, and had me looking over my shoulder towards the doorway behind me.

The pacing and tightness of the camera frames puts you so close to the terror that you can't help but shift with disquiet in your seat as you watch the hapless couple indulge in their dance with Death and Fate... all of it beautifully choreographed by the Grim Reaper.  All the while, the voice of the horror is whispering in your ear that you're not safe... not even in your own home...

Even though I'm wary of big names in horror films, I was impressed by Liv Tyler in her role as Kristen.  Her performance with Scott Speedman (as James), and the fact that you learn more about the characters before easing into the scares helped to create protagonists you actually care about- rather than being stock characters being offered up for the slaughter.  The "strangers" themselves (Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, and Laura Margolis) were extremely effective in their roles- able to project their creepy menace with just their bodies and voices.  You come to like Kristen and James... and come to fear the strangers that come rap rap rapping on their chamber door.

The scares never really let up.  You are either tense with anticipation of what the strangers are going to do, or jumping when they do it.  There is some gore, but it's not to the degree that many recent movies have- ditto with the body count.  "The Strangers" is a great example of a suspense filled, psychologically scary film without the reliance on blood.  If I had to compare this movie to another in the same style, I would have to put it along side John Carpenter's "Halloween" for skill, story, and general entertainment.

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