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The Strangers (2008)
Written and Directed by Bryan Bertino
Nothing seems more frightening than the thought of having someone enter your home to terrorize you for their sheer enjoyment, and nothing more. Which is the exact case in 2008’s The Strangers when a couple returns home from a wedding reception to their secluded vacation home. To find that someone else had been waiting as well; to play. Bertino had been asked to direct the film after selling it to Universal to make for his debut which as well had been based on “true” events. Having heard few versions on what that may be, the one I’m choosing to consider most being that writer/director Bertino had experienced someone approaching his door asking for an unfamiliar name in the middle of the night when younger; later hearing of houses having been broken into the next day.
Opening to what you might consider a typical enough rural neighborhood; two Mormon children patrol the area for “recruits” as they approach a house with the door open. Slowly moving inside they see only the aftermath of the previous night and call 911 to report the events. The operators voice leads into those preceding events after a couple had left a shared friend’s wedding reception. They set the tone with an overwhelming immediate despairing aura that seems as though a swift changed had occurred to these lovebirds recently. Once arriving, Kristen (Liv Tyler) takes notice of the abundant rose petals displayed throughout the house and champagne waiting on the table. The two separate; James (Scott Speedman) calling his friend Mike (Glenn Howerton) to come pick him up as how things had taken a turn for the worse while Kristen drew a bath.
Sharing an awkward moment with James showing her the box, insisting she keep the ring that was meant for her. They tiptoe about what had happened earlier and give into a last moment with one another when a knock calls their attention away. Nearing almost 4am, the two cannot begin to think of who could be there as they hesitantly approach the door to find that their porch light had momentarily stopped working. This stranger (Gemma Ward) unable to present her face for the couple to see inquires as to whether a “Tamara” was home, asking if they were sure as the two insist it being the wrong house. Something surly peaking their curiosity if only for a moment, James leaves to get cigarettes for Kristen as he details about the call earlier to Mike and suggest she take the car in the morning to avoid any awkwardness.
After some time Kristen hears a bang on the door to find the same girl from earlier. Pleading that she was at the wrong house she checks that all the doors were locked and makes a round of the house as it seems someone messed with the fireplace and smoke begins to envelop the area. Taking care of the fire alarm, continued bangs start-up as Kristen rushes to find her phone to get a hold of James. She ask him to stay on the line with her as it cuts out; things don’t look so bright already. Lighting a cigarette to try to calm her nerves as a new stranger approaches the background idly standing, watching; making for a rather tense moment as he just as easily disappears.
Kristen is mercilessly taunted as banging can now be heard from all ends of the property. We also find that these strangers have been able to get inside the house when she finds a “present” left atop a chair for her, retreating to the bedroom to wait for James. Finding her scared, crouched and knelt by the bed with a bloody hand, he believes her to be irrational and tired. In an effort to retrieve his phone from the car he finds it smashed in and discovers his phone was placed in the house showing that the charger had been removed. Hope dwindles down further as they becomes victim to these deranged people who have thought of everything. Except for the unexpected guest (Mike) who had decided to help his friend out by arriving early, yet sees the front door had been left open with no one in sight. Unsure of what to think he begins wandering down the hall with no way in knowing he next couple of breaths would soon be his last.
The only solution James can think of being to reach the barn in hope that the old radio still works; because that usually happens right? While trying to make it to the barn however he gets ambushed and captured as Kristen tries her try hand next. Making it for the barn as no other option is left by this point. Though she does make it to the barn and is able to turn on the radio, she fails to realize that these strangers tip-toe around her simply because they can; knowing very well how to manipulate the sitation. She’s finally captured after making her way into the house to only realize she had trapped herself indefinitely. With the morning bringing the final events left for the children to discover as in the beginning.
Once again DVD owners are encouraged to buy the “UNRATED” version of which is a whopping two minutes longer, so try to contain your excitement. It’s a great subtle yet high tension building movie on its own and is as such as soon as the Strangers are brought into the picture. The dialogue is minimal which as well worked in the movies favor. Initially there had been more written into the final scene after their both captured but the intent was to keep these people as mysterious as could. As well, I don’t always deem it necessary for a movie to divulge a background on a killer or expect for their madness to be explained. I have long accepted that some people just are…and that’s as far as it goes. Furthermore, if done correctly than you find yourself not needing to ask those questions because of how well portrayed the characters are which was the case here. We hardly had much information on the couple either except for a couple of flashes of the wedding they had attended and the fact that she declined his proposal.
Because all three strangers wore masks and kept talking to the minimalist, selling the fear was solely contingent upon the main two Actors. Speedman has the “strong, silent” type going for him and is a bit underrated. I found him to be quite surprising in his humility and submissiveness portrayed through the film. In the sense that this guy for all intent purposes seemed like a good catch. He put so much thought into that night and it was meant to be one to remember. Yet is defeated from the beginning as the woman he loves is not ready to love him back. He spends what little time they do share together hurt though grateful for her presence. He could have become angry, left her at the house or started a fight though he stays strong in the notion of not making it about that. Tyler is usually a hit or miss with me; she had yet to be in a scary movie either way. Her character was very gentle and insecure and she was something I expected to disappoint though I had never been sure as to why I felt that. She was a great fighter and it’s exactly what she does throughout, refusing to give in, even at the end.
It’s as though the Manson family decided to play dress up and this became the result. All three masks that the “family” or whoever they are to one another, were eerily perfect. Kip Weeks, who played the man in the mask also had these great slight, subtle head movements when behind certain characters. Everything about the way he moved around the house sent chills rather. Or when you could hear him dragging the knife against the back sliding door throughout. All those little things in movies that finely tune the film into working so well for its audience is something we too frequent come across (at least, that portray little exchanges with one another). The characters don’t realize that it wouldn’t have mattered even if James’s friend had stayed alive, they’re all going to be dead no matter what. The location used for the film was as seen in that the barn and house were connected; they ended up getting lucky in that aspect. However the interior had been too small so it was duplicated in an area in which every sound they made was echoed (“props” to sound in other words). Everything seemed to come together quite nicely for those involved and it was great to see a movie without all the bells and whistles still be able to have me catch my breath throughout. If they do decide to make a sequel, as it wouldn’t surprise me, it’s hard to see it being better or comparable to the fist though it’s too hard to say for sure what direction could be next. Possibilities could truly be endless though regardless, a great watch for any movie night.