The Strangers
dir-scr Bryan Bertino
with Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Gemma Ward, Laura Margolis, Kip Weeks, Glenn Howerton, Alex Fisher, Peter Clayton-Luce
release US 30.May.08, UK 29.Aug.08
08/US Universal 1h25
The Strangers
Look behind you! Tyler and Ward

tyler speedman
See also:
The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Strangers Bryan Bertino's writing-directing debut owes a bit too much to the French thriller Them, with the very same "based on a true story" premise. But after building a jangling sense of terror, Bertino doesn't take it anywhere.

Kristen and James (Tyler and Speedman) return home from a wedding looking strained, which we learn is because their relationship is at a crossroads. They're too drained to talk, so as Kristen takes a bath, James goes out for cigarettes. But there are three masked people (Ward, Margolis and Weeks) lurking in the dark, and they start tormenting Kristen, then attack when James returns home, remaining terrifyingly in the shadows as they taunt their prey.

An opening prologue tells us how this ends, so any suspense is diffused early on. What's left is the frightening tension of the events, told roughly in real time through Kristen's perspective, including a few flashbacks to the party. But this quickly gives way to the home invasion scenario when the doorbell rings, curtains flutter and masked faces continually appear right behind Kristen and James.

Yes, it's one of those movies at which the audience keeps yelling, "Look behind you!" And the film's first half is seriously unnerving. Bertino indulges in just the right amount of creepy music, suggestive camera work and eerie noises, while Tyler and Speedman go far beyond the call of duty to create authentic, raw characters. This gives the film a tone that's both moodily emotional and portentously scary, augmented by such clever touches as an unscrewed porch light, a clicking turntable, a nagging smoke alarm and sinister red herrings.

It's so full-on, and so much better than virtually every torture porn movie, that it's all the more annoying as we realise that Bertino has no idea where to go with it. After creating a powerful sense of the relationship, including an aura of sad hopefulness and one wrenching emotional shock, Tyler and Speedman are turned into witless horror movie characters who constantly do boneheaded things like going to the barn to find the old radio. Then the gimmicks start getting trite and repetitive, which effectively turns our initial terror into exasperation. And in the end it just feels like yet another pointless waste of our time.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Aug.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall