The Strangers is a simple film that isn’t afraid to follow its premise through to its natural conclusion. Unlike the similarly themed Vacancy (which also featured a couple trapped by a bunch of loonies who begin their reign of terror by knocking on the door), Bryan Bertino’s film starts out creepy and gets scarier as time goes on.
It really is a horrible little film, and I mean that in a good way. Where Inside (À l’intérieur) combined sadism with tension, The Strangers is only interested in one thing – keeping you on the edge of your seat. Of course, it’s often predictable, and the characters make a few silly choices, but this film mines one idea for all it’s worth.
The premise is paper-thin, but never tries to get too clever, which is good. Our central characters, Kristen and James, have a genuinely original backstory, though it’s never taken very far. The strangers are masked, which of course makes things more than a little creepy, and have a sneaky habit of appearing and disappearing at a moment’s notice. The cinematography is beautiful, really turning a rather dull summer home into something more, and takes full advantage of the camera’s main drawback – zero peripheral vision.
Liv Tyler is in top form (nobody cries quite like her), and I only just realised that she’s managed to avoid horror films throughout her career until now. She gives her all here, and her terror is rather affecting. Scott Speedman is… well… his usual boring self. Directors really seem unable to breathe life into that guy. The film also features the Hollywood debut of Aussie Gemma Ward, of The Black Balloon fame, though don’t expect to actually see too much of her.
The film isn’t without its flaws, and is a little too simple for its own good, but I guess it’s better to do something basic well than something complicated badly (hello, Southland Tales). If you’re after a horror flick that’s actually scary, then The Strangers is right down your alley. (Then again, maybe a lot of the crud released this year – Prom Night, The Invasion, Captivity, The Eye – has lowered my horror flick standards…)Rating: