The Strangers

There is one moment in The Strangers that is genuinely creepy.  It’s the dead of night.  A young woman is all alone in a summer home waiting for her boyfriend to return with a pack of cigarettes.  (She has a difficult time sleeping without them.)  As she’s walking around the kitchen, he appears.  If you’ve seen the trailer, you know what I’m talking about.
His identity is concealed and he makes no sound.  While the woman is looking outside the window on the right side of the screen, he’s staring at her from the left.  By the time she turns around, it’s as if he was never there to begin with.  Very effective.
Other than that, this is a rather pointless filmmaking exercise masquerading as a horror film.
Liv Tyler plays Kristen, the woman in question.  When we first meet her, she’s in a car with her boyfriend, James (Scott Speedman), with tears in her eyes looking quite glum.  He’s pissed beyond words as he exits the vehicle to retrieve a large stash of mail from the outdoor in-box.  They’ve fled a wedding reception they were attending after Kristen rebuffed his marriage proposal.  She loves him but isn’t ready to take such a leap with him.
Once inside James’ old family summer retreat, we see all the trouble he went through to make this night special for his lady.  Two bottles of champagne and lots of little rose pedals all over the house.  Wanting badly to escape the awkward atmosphere, James leaves a voicemail message for his buddy, Mike (Glenn Howerton), hoping he’ll come pick him up in the morning.  At one point, he goes right for the ice cream to numb his pain.  What a girl.
After much silence, the couple are on the verge of make-up sex when, out of nowhere, a loud knock is heard on their front door.  A young woman is looking for someone who isn’t Kristen or James.  Her face is hard to make out since, before knocking, she unscrewed the light bulb on the front porch.  When James tells her she’s at the wrong residence, she exits saying, "See you later." 
"That was weird," replies a perplexed Kristen.
Soon, James is off for a drive to get those cigarettes.  Why he would leave his woman all alone like that makes zero sense.  (Why he drove her up to this place after getting a "no" is also puzzling.  Was he hoping to wear her down?)
In fact, very little about The Strangers is rational.  When Kristen is left to her own devices, there are more sudden knocks on the front door.  And soon, she realizes her very life is in danger.  By the time James returns (without cigarettes, it should be noted), she’s barefoot and completely freaked out.  She’s also somehow cut her hand quite severely after mishandling a lamp.  Their car is trashed, their cell phones are missing and there’s no one around to hear their screams.
We learn ultimately that there are three masked psychos after them: two young women and a wheezy-sounding man.  It’s hard not to think of Halloween whenever you see the latter wandering around the house.  In one scene somewhat reminiscent of a key element of that film’s third act, Kristen hides in a kitchen supply closet while keeping a close eye on her male attacker who, after inspecting a few places, actually takes a break to sit down for a few seconds.  Time to join a gym, buddy.  Is stalking the corridors very slowly really that exhausting?  No wonder he’s always breathing heavily.
This slow moving, unoriginal thriller only runs for an hour and a half but it feels so much longer because of its dreadful pacing.  Tyler and Speedman have zippo chemistry as a couple but they do the best they can with uninteresting roles and surprisingly little dialogue.  Tyler, in particular, looks fantastic in close-ups (the Gene Siskel test for movie stars) but she’s reduced to mostly crawling, screaming, and looking perturbed.  This is quite a comedown from The Lord Of The Rings.
As for the villains, I’m reminded of the 2006 remake, When A Stranger Calls.  Like the heel in that picture, there is no legitimate reason why this trio have targetted this couple, why they constantly toy with them and why they want them dead.  (How did they even know they were going to be there that night?)  The gimmick of the masks gets old quick.  In fact, even when they come off, we never do get a good look at their faces.  Why?  Is it scarier not seeing them?  Or maybe the actors who play them wanted their identities protected.  I can’t say as I blame them, if that were the case.
And what about that ending?  It’s horrifying for all the wrong reasons.  Do the filmmakers really think they can squeeze a sequel out of this mess?  Considering the fact that the movie made twice its budget in its opening weekend (made for 9 million, it grossed a healthy 20 million), we all know the answer to that one.
(Special thanks to Dave Scacchi.)
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 6, 2008
8:11 p.m.
Published in: on June 6, 2008 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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