Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Strangers (2008)

One thing that has always been disturbing about older Horror movies (say, from the 70s or early 80s) is that, save for a "star" who may be past his/her prime and they're trying to pay the rent with a quick paycheck, most of the cast is made up of unknowns. When an unfamiliar face is being terrorized on-screen, it's much easier to get lost in the movie and become engrossed in the tension that a skilled director can create from a really good screenplay. It also helps when the setting could be Your Town, USA.

The Strangers has been on my "To See" list for at least a year/year and a half since I first read about it in Fangoria magazine. After seeing Fango's stamp of approval on the article, my reaction to the masked characters was "Whoa. That's intense."

First time writer/director, Bryan Bertino, starts things off with an ominous voice-over about how the story is based on true events . . . as a fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this is a fine way to begin things as far as I'm concerned. If you're willing to actually get inside the movie and pay attention, it easily adds to the experience when you've got "this actually happened" in the back of your mind.

The story centers around James Hoyt and Kristen McKay (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, respectively), a couple who look as though they haven't been having such a wonderful night. They're barely speaking to eachother and one can't help but be interested as to what's going on with them and why they're in the state we find them in. Almost immediately, someone is pounding on the front door -- it's 4am, by the way -- and things quickly begin to spiral out of control.

For the most part, Bertino keeps things interesting despite the fact that only Speedman and Tyler are on-screen for the duration of the picture. And, people can say what they want about Liv Tyler, but she more than holds her own and easily plays against type in a role like this. Seeing a high-profile actress like Liv Tyler in a movie like this can always go either way, but I'd say things went more in the right direction for sure.

The violence is pretty intense, yet not overly gory. Honestly, if it can be compared to anything else, Wes Craven's Last House on the Left comes to mind. The level of on-screen violence here is in no way of the cartoonish variety found in a Friday the 13th or any other Slasher movie; in a sense, the audience is not cheering, applauding, or laughing at the setpieces. When things go down in The Strangers, it's not pretty and it's not a roller coaster ride. In fact, it's derivative of when Phyllis is killed in front of her best friend Mari while she watches helplessly in Craven's 1972 shocker. There's an overbearing sense of dread that hangs over the entire movie and it only continues to unsettle right to its grim and startling (albeit a bit cliched) conclusion.

As for the titular Strangers . . . wow. These characters are easily some of the most disturbing the Horror genre has ever seen. Their strength lies in their mystery and simple nature of their motive -- "because you were home." They will definitely make anyone think twice about locking every door in the house and checking tenfold.

Some may say that there's nothing we haven't seen before in The Strangers and, sure, that's true to an extent. However, it's really refreshing to see a Horror picture that at least strives to be suspenseful and work its way under the audience's collective skin. In a time of flashy, sporadically edited, cookie cutter movies, I welcome anything that breaks that mold.

All in all, if you're a serious Horror fan, this is just what the doctor ordered. See it!