The Strangers
Truths No Stranger to Fiction

I could not wait for this movie to end, and I mean that as a compliment. I couldn’t wait for this movie to end so my pulse would return to normal, my heart would return to my chest where it belongs, and I could take a sip of my soda without the fear of choking on it and/or spraying it all over the back of the lady’s head in front of me.

The simple plot focuses on young couple Kristen McKay and James Hoyt who retreat to the Hoyt family vacation home following a wedding reception. The tension is palpable, though not unexpected, as Kristen has recently rejected James’ marriage proposal; but even a painful and unfortunate event of such magnitude is quickly forgotten when they find themselves terrorized by three masked strangers.

The plot itself resembles Funny Games, released earlier this year. However, where the earlier film was filmed more matter-of-factly (which is artistic, I guess), The Strangers is more of a genre piece (read: entertainment) and it is all the better for it.

Liv Tyler as Kristen in The Strangers

Writer/director Bryan Bertino—in his feature directing debut—knows what works. Loud, sudden knocks on a large wooden door? Startling. The sudden appearance of a masked figure in the background? Creepy. A trembling hand slowly reaching to pull back closed drapes? Nerve-wracking.

Still, the mastery is not so much the use of these old tricks, but rather in using them correctly, all while successfully preventing the film to fall into the trap of predictability. The moment a film like this becomes predictable, the tension level sharply declines. But even the most predictable scene in The Strangers—a character warily walking toward a room known to contain a loaded shotgun—provides myriad aspects designed to throw the audience off guard. The meticulous pacing and timing provide the essential intensity, keeping the audience in unrelenting suspense, effectively removing any opportunity for predictability.

Of course, one of the difficulties with films this intense is delivering an appropriate conclusion; despite the adrenaline and intensity preceding it, the ending is ultimately and extremely disappointingly anti-climactic. The tension that builds over the film’s first 85 minutes fizzles more than erupts, and a certain final “shock” is completely unnecessary.

The film also touches on a common theme of many recent films (including last year’s Oscar-winner No Country for Old Men): the increase in senseless, violent crimes. When the terrorized Kristen finally gets a chance to interrogate her masked captors regarding their motivation, the response is a simple, chilling, “because you were home.”

The worst thing a horror movie can do is bore me. The Strangers didn’t. The best thing a horror movie can do is make me squirm in my chair before popping out of it, while I’m jittery about every shot and every edit. The Strangers does that in spades.

The Strangers is rated R for “violence/terror and language.” I was too much on the edge of my seat to notice the language, but the R rating is accurate for the tension alone. There’s not too much violence as it is more of the impending sort, but what there is is enough. There’s also a brief scene of sensuality.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of The Strangers.