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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.02%
Worth A Look52.63%
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5 reviews, 27 user ratings

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Strangers, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Liv And Let Die"
2 stars

“The Strangers” is a horror film that has been made with some degree of skill, features reasonably skillful and effective performances and has enough courage of its convictions to maintain a decidedly “R”-rated level of intensity throughout instead of gutting itself in order to get a more commercially viable “PG-13” and to follow its storyline to its decidedly bleak conclusion instead of adding on an artificial happy ending so as not to disturb its viewers too much. Considering the parlous state of the contemporary American horror film--a period in which a work of genius like George Romero’s “Diary of the Dead” can slip in and out of theaters almost unnoticed while gibberish like the recent “Prom Night” remake (seriously, a remake of fricking “Prom Night”!) can become a hit--I suspect that the mere inclusion of these elements alone may inspire some critics to look kindly upon this film as a welcome respite from all the genre junk that they have been forced to sit through over the last few years. However, you can include all of these ingredients in a horror movie and they won’t add up to much in the end if the film in question is predictable, derivative and almost totally devoid of any genuine tension and that is the problem here--there isn’t a single thing on display here that even the most casual genre fan hasn’t seen before and done far better to boot.

Right from the start, the familiarity kicks in with a portentous opening narration insisting that everything that we are about to see is true--a trick that exploitation filmmakers back in the day used to pull quite often in order to make their stories somehow seem scarier to audiences. Our victims this time are Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and when we first see them, they are returning late one night from a wedding reception to a summer home belonging to James’ family that is so remote and vast that it may well be the last house on both the left and the right. The inside of the home has been set up for romance--champagne and rose petals everywhere--but the somber mood of the couple suggests otherwise. Before long, we learn that James proposed to Kristen at the wedding and she turned him down, perhaps implicitly realizing that a guy who uses someone else’s wedding as a proposal platform is not to be entirely trusted. Anyway, bitter recrimination soon leads to makeup hanky-panky but before anything significant can develop on this end, they are faced with that most time-honored version of horror film coitus interruptus--a mysterious 4:00 AM knock on the door that they unhesitatingly decide to answer. It turns out to be a strange young woman asking if a friend of hers is there before disappearing into the shadows.

Of course, this is merely a prelude and when James leaves to go fetch Kristen some cigarettes--as most guys are likely to do at four in the morning for someone who just turned down their marriage proposal--the girl returns and when Kristen sends her away again, it begins to kick off a series of increasingly unnerving attacks both outside and inside the home. Naturally, when James returns home and finds Kristen huddled in a corner in a panic insisting that someone has been in the house, he insists that there is nothing wrong. However, once the phones are destroyed and his car is smashed up, it finally begins to dawn on him that something might be wrong and that is the point when the attackers begin to ramp things up even further, leading to an extended game of cat-and-mouth in which our heroes desperately try to escape being found by their bizarrely masked tormentors while searching for some means of escape. Alas, said tormentors seem to be two steps ahead of them at every stage and as the film comes to its grimly nihilistic conclusion, not only do James and Kristen undergo the kinds of things that shouldn’t happen to a dog, you get the sense that if they had a dog, they would have happened to it as well.

Although the subgenre of home-invasion cinema is broad enough to encompass films as diverse as “Straw Dogs” and “Home Alone,” ardent horror movie buffs are likely to watch “The Strangers” and recognize huge chunks of three specific films. One is the aforementioned “Last House of the Left,” due to the alleged fact-based nature of the story and the savagery that erupts behind the walls of a seemingly placid home. Another is Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” in which a couple of mysterious young men invited themselves into the home of a bourgeois family and began systematically torturing them over the course of one long night. Most of all, it is reminiscent of “Them,” a nasty little French thriller from a couple of years ago in which a happy couple in an isolated home found themselves under attack from. . .something out there that began laying siege to their homes and psyches. However, while debuting writer-director Bryan Bertino has effectively cherry-picked some of the surface details of those films, he hasn’t figured out a way to emulate the key thematic elements that made those earlier films so memorable. It lacks the shocking savagery and morbid humor of “Last House on the Left” that filled grindhouse viewers with such dread that they began to fear that the people behind the camera might be as dangerous as those in front of it. It lacks the intellectual gamesmanship and chilly precision that outraged viewers of “Funny Games” in both its Austrian and American incarnations. From “Them,” which it most closely resembles (so much so, in fact, that it often seems like an uncredited remake at times--to be fair, however, I must note that I have seen a draft of the screenplay that bore a 2004 date, suggesting that either the opposite is true or that creepy minds think alike regardless of nationality), it lacks the element of surprise that drove most of that film--unlike this version, in which the bemasked attackers are seen early and often, we were left in the dark as to who (or what) was laying siege to the house and when the answer was finally unveiled, it did provoke a genuinely unnerving jolt. Throw in borrowings from any number of other horror classics--“Halloween” and “The Shining” immediately leap to mind--and “The Strangers” begins to feel like an extended trip to a horror smorgasbord in which you quickly fill up on bits and pieces of different things but you come away without the satisfaction that you would get from a straightforward cinematic meal.

However, even if you aren’t a partisan of home-invasion thrillers, there are enough flaws on display in “The Strangers” to keep it from ever generating the necessary suspense to prevent viewers from noticing those flaws in the first place. For starters, while the attackers are always magically two steps ahead of our increasingly hapless heroes, the audience is always three steps ahead of the film itself--while Bertino tends to prefer long set-ups to quick shocks, the outcomes of said set-ups are telegraphed so early that the tension winds up dissipating as the audience impatiently waits for them to wrap up in their predictably unpredictable ways before moving on to the next one. The bit involving the outsider who unfortunately wanders into the proceedings is a perfect example of a sequence that should work by all means but simply doesn’t. (Along the same lines, the moment that should have been the most hair-raising in the entire film--the part in which Liv Tyler stands by herself in a big room and we quietly discover that she is not quite alone--has been neutered by Rogue Pictures’ questionable choice to include it in every commercial and trailer, a move roughly analogous to building the entire P.R. campaign for the original “Alien” around the chest-burster). Then there are all the moments in which the plot is able to continue only because the characters do stupid, stupid things (how would the invaders’ plan have worked out if Kristen had left her phone charged up, James hadn’t left his in the car after his cigarette run and the visitor had taken off after getting his windshield busted instead of getting out of the car to snoop around?) instead of having them act in an intelligent manner and then have them be defeated by their relentless oppressors. Finally, there is the fact that none of the characters in the film are particularly interesting--Tyler and Speedman acquit themselves as well as they can under the circumstances but never really engage us as people worth rooting for while their oppressors are nothing but walking masks with an inexplicable ability to bend time and space whenever one needs to suddenly appear in a shot.

As I said earlier, “The Strangers” is definitely a step up from the majority of recent American horror movies and I suppose that if you have never seen any of the films I have cited in this review, there is a pretty good chance that you might find it to actually be on the unnerving side. However, my guess is that most of the people who will want to check this one out will be intimately familiar with those titles and will be annoyed to discover that this is nothing more than a rehash that brings nothing of value to the party except a few moments of stylish filmmaking (Bertino clearly has what it takes to make a good movie, even if he hasn’t actually done so here), the always-welcome presence of the breathtaking Liv Tyler and a couple of important life lessons for everyone to consider. Never get the most remote summer home available. If you are walking into your friend’s house late at night and there are obvious signs of distress everywhere, try calling out that you are instead of creeping around in a silent and stealthy manner. Never propose to your girlfriend at someone else’s wedding. Most importantly, if said girlfriend has turned down your marriage proposal and then complains at 4:00 AM that she is out of cigarettes, either let her suffer or tell her to go out and get them herself.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17258&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/30/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

10/29/16 morris campbell familiar but frighting the 3 villians were chilling & they got away 4 stars
1/02/14 Martin Mostly boring. Dumb characters. Relied too much on tired horror tropes. 2 stars
10/22/12 Stephanie Can't look out the window at night. 4 stars
9/05/12 Albert It's not a rip-off of "Ils". Let's clear that up. Truly frightening! 5 stars
12/07/10 car scary and suspenful and liv tyler perf was good, but it overall dull and confusing. 3 stars
10/28/10 millersxing frustrating and claustrophobic. not so much frightening as infuriating. 3 stars
5/31/10 User Name The characters are thin and the plot is almost nonexistent, but there are creepy moments. 2 stars
8/16/09 vesta tense,unsettling and truly disturbing 4 stars
8/02/09 David A. Mostly gore/action horror, but the intruder's mask makes him spooky--nice touch. 4 stars
7/01/09 art A NIFTY HORROR FILM! 5 stars
5/06/09 mr.mike Left me with mixed reaction , I may have to watch it again. 4 stars
4/02/09 Raul Valdez Jr unmerficul, evil, freaky, and disturbing and the best part ITS PURE HORROR 4 stars
12/19/08 Scott Didnt like the ending but was truely terrifying 4 stars
11/14/08 VMANIC1 Unknown killers with unknown motives. Pointless and inconclusive movie. 2 stars
10/12/08 Lee pointless movie 1 stars
7/25/08 Alice Good acting, great suspense, Liv is a delight, great to see a real woman for a change. 4 stars
7/05/08 James Liked it, but was let down by the ending 3 stars
6/06/08 Manuel Gerlach Not special. Sometimes scary, but bad story... 3 stars
6/05/08 Ming K Worst film of the year, the film does not explain anything for the killing... 5 stars
6/02/08 Robert Good acting & very suspenseful. Enjoyed it a lot 4 stars
6/01/08 Obi Wan Terrifying! So much tension! Frightening! 4 stars
6/01/08 George Barksdale Another unscary movie, OK acting 2 stars
6/01/08 Michael Charlonne Great feature overall. Hope this film does well. Can't wait for the DVD w/ bonus features. 4 stars
5/31/08 Quigley Truly, deeply scary. One of the most well-crafted horror films in a very long time. 5 stars
5/31/08 ahnold Acting good. Story okay, but pretty much what we've seen before. 4 stars
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  30-May-2008 (R)
  DVD: 21-Oct-2008


  DVD: 21-Oct-2008

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Bryan Bertino

Written by
  Bryan Bertino

  Liv Tyler
  Scott Speedman
  Gemma Ward
  Kip Weeks
  Laura Margolis
  Glenn Howerton

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