a critiQal film review The Strangers (2008)

Plot: A young couple, Kristen (Tyler) and James (Speedman), are targeted by three dangerous masked strangers, who attack them in their remote suburban home. The resulting clashes force the couple to go well beyond what they thought themselves capable of in order to survive. Inspired by true events.

656 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 16s)

The first time I heard about The Strangers, it didn’t really interest me all that much. At the time, I was gearing up for the giant summer blockbusters, and horror was pretty far from my mind. For the summer, I go to be entertained, not scared – that’s what Halloween time is for, after all.

But, as the film released the end of May, I started hearing some good things about the film – it was actually doing decent box office, despite going up against big contenders like Iron Man (2008) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). While I still had so many choices for happier summer movie fare, I did make a mental note to eventually see what the fuss was about.

So, would The Strangers turn out to be a good thriller, or were it’s box office numbers just being inflated by guys whose significant other was watching Sex and the City (2008)?

Liv Tyler ventures into the horror realm for the first time and takes on a leading role in The Strangers. While she isn’t exactly Oscar®-caliber material, she does have a healthy set of lungs on her, so would be easily able to slip into the “scream queen” role. Unfortunately, she’s over-used in this film, as most of the film is spent following her around. True, she does a decent job of acting frightened, but she doesn’t have enough of a screen presence for most viewers to be able to really be pulled in for such a lengthy time frame.

Scott Speedman, who burst onto the scene big time with his role in Underworld (2003), has been rather underwhelming since. He also manages to do a decent job in The Strangers, however, and occasionally outshines Liv in their scenes together.

Unfortunately, their “romantic” scenes together are the biggest mishaps of The Strangers. With the terror that viewers know is coming, most expect to be impressed with how deep the bond is between the characters before the terror tries to tear that bond asunder. Unfortunately, these two never really seem to connect on an emotional level, with Scott playing the stoic one and Liv retreating into herself as usual. Only near the end does that bond really begin to show through – and by then it’s too late for the viewers.

Director Bryan Bertino manages to take these actors, however, and help them mold a truly tension-filled picture with The Strangers. While the viewer goes in expecting horror, they instead get a tense slow-burning thriller that ever so slowly ratchets up the suspense until the final moments of the film – when it then tosses it all away in a throwaway ending.

Many horror buffs will probably be disappointed – and surprised – by the very brief sequences of violence. Despite it’s billing as a horror film, The Strangers is more about the buildup to the violence than the violence itself. So much so, in fact, that even non-horror buffs will be surprised at the very small amounts of violence in the film. True, it’s still not something for the kids, but it’s definitely nowhere near as violent as viewers will be expecting.

Despite it’s lack of violence, however, The Strangers is still able to send a chill or two down the spine, thanks to it’s ability to slowly infuse a sense of terror in the film. It’s a film that doesn’t go for the gore – instead, it tries it’s best to get the viewer to imagine themselves in the film – and then tosses in a few quick surprises just to keep the nerves a bit jittery.

If you’re out looking for a gory horror fest, than The Strangers probably isn’t for you – instead you may want to check out it’s cousin (plot-wise): (which was labeled by some critics to be borderline torture porn).

If you’re looking for a solid (if a bit long) thriller, however, than The Strangers is probably worth a rental.

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