When people spout off about ridiculous nonsense declaring that Horror is dead, I often laugh at them, and then insist that there are still good horror movies out there. Great horror movies are still around, they’re just so much harder to find, with people still willing to scare us into submission. Take “The Strangers” a movie that’s garnered a rather excellent marketing campaign, but still suffers from being a virtual rip off of “Ils-Them,” a superior home invasion horror flick. Nevertheless, after watching great home invasion flicks like the aforementioned title, and “Inside,” I think “The Strangers” will carry along the rising fad with acute precision and some reasonable arguments for being one of the stronger horror films of the year.
Director Bryan Bertino conducts a rather gradual and tense little thriller that builds up on the inevitable boom that plays with our feelings of safety in the home. Are we really safe from the threats that lurk outside in our home? And who’s to say it can keep everything back? Such is the case with the couple who come from a wedding and decides to reconcile after a bad fight. After being greeted by a shadowy woman asking for “Tamara,” things slowly take a turn for the worse as they find themselves slowly terrorized by a trio of masked murderers. Who is Tamara? Is this all some misunderstanding? And most importantly, is the couple all that safe in their home? Especially when these people seem to be able to break down barriers with ease? One horror gimmick I’m truly sick of is the “Inspired by True Events” push that surpasses any attempts at hype and completely skips into inherent fallacies trying to fool its audience.
“The Strangers” purports in the opening that this movie is based on true events because crimes are committed all over America each year, and it’s sold by a deep husky voiced narrator, if only to mimic John Laroquette’s famous introduction in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” By that logic, I can make a movie about aliens, and insist it’s inspired by true events because UFO’s are spotted by many people in America. It’s just not true. “The Strangers” is in effect a rip off of “Ils-Them” whether coincidental or not, and any connection to the Manson murders are happenstance. Not to mention the circular logic that it’s still based on true events since “Them” was, is also a horrible argument void of sanity. Bertino thankfully keeps ambiguity a top priority as much of this is unanswered while the typical set up is attempted to be undermined at all points.
We never really find out why these maniacs are terrorizing them, and in a twist of originality, we never see who they are. They remain the monsters that we first know them as from minute one, and Bertino keeps up the charade even in spite of the writer’s apparent desire to reveal something about the trio. It’s probably one of the best devices of “The Strangers” that Bertino never really gives away who or what these people are. Like much of the menaces in reality, the trio remains faceless, cold, and relentless in their pursuit to inflict suffering on these victims. Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler are competent even if Bertino’s primary objective isn’t characterization. While there are flashbacks and some emphasis on their relationship, this is one of the few horror films that never over-emphasize character. They’re simply victims there for the slaughter trying to fight their way out, and as day breaks, Bertino tosses out any illusions of safety.
The house is vulnerable, passersby are useless, and most importantly, the break of day doesn’t mean the danger is necessarily over. As for the overall resolution, while it’s in keeping with the general thought processes of a psychopath (or trio of psychopaths, as it were), there’s the final scene which is not just a pure cop out that only Hollywood is capable of, but also quite ridiculous in its provocation of providing one last jump scare and a potential sequel. That said, “The Strangers” is a brutal little thriller with no intentions other than to scare us. And in many instances, it succeeds. It’s not based on real events, and it definitely has its share of problems in plotting and the finale, but “The Strangers” is nevertheless a very good and entertaining horror film that actually succeeds in scaring us again and again. It’s well worth your time. I’m shocked they still make movies like this.