Review by Jack Foley
EXISTING in similar territory to Michael Haneke’s recent Funny Games, writer and first-time director Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers is a lean, mean Hollywood chiller that provides horror fans with a genuinely unsettling experience.
The film picks up as Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) arrive home from a friend’s wedding tired and dejected, after his attempt to propose has fallen flat. While attempting to put things into perspective, the couple are interrupted by a loud knock at the door and a woman asking: “Is Tamara home?”
Not long afterwards, the woman is joined by two masked strangers who then proceed to terrorise the couple. It’s only a matter of time before events escalate into violence.
Bertino’s film would have you believe that it’s inspired by the true story of an incident that took place in 2005, but it actually stems from a childhood memory the director had of his own that involved house robbery.
Nevertheless, the film plays very effectively on that primal fear of being victimised at home and of peering beyond the curtains at night to find someone else looking in!
Bertino also makes good use of his masked strangers, proving conclusively that there’s nothing more unsettling than the appearance of someone wearing a mask, while a lot of the jumps – particularly early on – are extremely well staged. Audiences should have their hearts in their mouths at several key moments.
The film does lose its way during the final third, when the suggestion of violence is replaced by the actual use of it, but even then Bertino is wise enough to deliver an ambiguous ending, while the few words his tormentors utter are truly chilling.
Tyler and Speedman provide strong performances as the couple at the centre of the nightmare, balancing the fear of their predicament with a determination to survive. And they’re helped by the fleeting insights Bertino offers into their back-stories, which provides audiences with a reason to genuinely root for them.
If there’s a criticism, it’s the same that exists with Haneke’s Funny Games, in that it offers an unsettling “how to” guide for any like-minded individuals who may become “inspired” by what takes place on-screen (especially in terms of the random nature of both films).
But taken on its own terms, it is a supremely effective frightener that will certainly make you think twice before opening the door or peering beyond the curtain at night.
Running time: 85mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: December 26, 2008
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read the review
- The Strangers photo gallery
- Watch the trailer