The Strangers (2008) Reviewed

Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman (seated), terrorized by The Strangers.

Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman (seated), terrorized by The Strangers.

Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman drop their love smack-dab on the rocks after his proposal at a friend’s wedding doesn’t go as planned. The mopey couple is gridlocked between awkward silence and melancholy when they head back to his family’s vacant, and fairly remote, summer home for one night of rest before a planned, and now canceled, engagement road trip. After a mysterious head-scratching encounter with a young woman who comes knocking at 4 am asking for someone they’ve never heard of, terror slowly begins to creep in from the (literal) margins of the frame. After more unnerving knocking, it becomes clear that the couple is being stalked by a masked threesome, whose motive is disturbingly unknown. It sounds like a fairly typical slasher movie set up, but The Strangers is hardly typical. Relying on ambiance noise (skipping record players, mysterious clanging, footsteps, etc.), director, Bryan Bertino, minimizes the need for soundtrack score, and his insistence on holding shots long after you’d expect an impatient director to cut-away, provides the audience with little reprieve from the suspense. With a minimalist approach to tension and dialogue, TS succeeds in being an awesomely creepy evening of viewing. Tyler and Speedman’s performances are believable and sympathetic — their relationship feels real and their reaction to their home’s invasion is neither heroic nor completely stupid. It’s not often I’m truly scared (as opposed to “startled,” “shocked” or “grossed-out”) by a thriller, but TS has got the stuff. There’s an obvious influence of Carpenter’s Halloween, Craven’s Last House on the Left and the true-life Manson family murders outlined in “Helter Skelter.” The creepy score by tomandandy is supplemented by some choice soundtrack highlights including songs by Merle Hagard, Wilco with Billy Bragg and Joanna Newsom. The DVD release offers the theatrical cut and an “uncut” version that’s only a few minutes longer.

~ by Number5ive on November 17, 2008.

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