“A young couple staying in an isolated vacation home are terrorized by three unknown assailants.” — IMDb
The Strangers is director Bryan Bertino’s feature film debut, but not one he planned on — he had sold directorial rights to to Universal Pictures, but about two years later it got passed to Universal’s subsidiary, Rogue Pictures, and Bertino was approached. In writing the script, he had been inspired by the Manson/Tate murders — primarily by their randomness — and, it’s speculated, by the Keddie murders of 1981 (an unsolved 1981 quadruple homicide that took place in rural California). The introductory claim of it being “based on true events” is, indeed, technically correct, though maybe slightly misleading.
It’s a simple plot: James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) arrive late at night at James’ childhood summer home after celebrating at a friend’s wedding reception. There is palpable heartbreak as we find out that James had proposed at said reception… and Kristen had said no. They drift about a bit aimlessly until receiving a perplexing knock at the door — a stranger asking “is Tamara home?”. James heads out to buy cigarettes and clear his head, and when he’s gone the home is slowly surrounded…
** SPOILERS! **
I think my biggest disappointment with this movie is how much I WANTED to like it. Home invasion, as a basic concept, is scary as all hell. The added notion of said invasion being random makes it even more horrifying. As Dollface says when asked “why are you doing this to us?” by a breathless Kristen: “because you were home” (a truly bone-chilling moment… though maybe the only one). It moves away from the slasher flicks of the 70’s and 80’s — where there is often some kind of moral infringement that is implied to be the reason for the killings, as if terror and death is a punishment — and into what, to me, feels like a much more modern take: aimless, emotionless violence. There’s no back story for these invaders, no motivation, no revenge, no passion. They are calm and patient, not even seeming to have the benefit of enjoyment present. THAT is scary: that someone could inflict pain and horror onto another person for no reason at all. But this movie didn’t execute it in a way that really did much for me.
The one shining moment was when Glenn Howerton (best known for playing Dennis Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) made an appearance… buuuuut he was shot in the face all too soon.
By 55 minutes in, we had seen a handful of glimpses of the masked intruders but not really much else. I’m a big fan of “less is more” but… I was bored. As far as cinematography goes, it looked good… but that wasn’t enough to carry it for me.
The only strong point was the ending. I really thought the kids handing out leaflets would simply find their bodies and that would be it, tying in with the opening scenes of the bloodied house. But Kristen opening her eyes and shrieking was such a jolt to the finale, I loved it. Alas… not enough to float the whole thing.
I will, for sure, check out the sequel — 2018’s The Strangers: Prey at Night — only because I think this basic plot has promise, but I won’t hold my breath.
Rating: 3/10 | Director: Bryan Bertino | Writer: Bryan Bertino | Music: tomandandy | Cinematography: Peter Sova | Starring: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Gemma Ward, Glenn Howerton