It's beginning to look a lot like halloween... part 2: The Strangers

Last night, as I ignored the pile of work on my desk for the second day in a row, I decided to watch The Strangers, the fantastically frightening debut movie from director Brian Bertino. This film seriously gave me the willies, people. The entire movie takes place over the course of just a few hours at the conveniently-out-of-the-way summer home of leading man James (Scott Speedman).
His girlfriend, Kristen (Liv Tyler), and he have arrived at the summer home late in the night after attending a wedding. During the first fifteen minutes of the film we become privy, through various flashbacks to the night’s events and conversations between the leads, to the fact that this relationship of theirs is not exactly in a good place at the moment. Just as the pair are about to partake in what looks to be some kind of very hot hate and/or break-up-sex, a knock comes from the door. A young, somewhat dazed girl, stands in the shadows of the doorway, giving only minor glimpses of her face as she asks if “Tamara” is home. James informs her she has the wrong house and sends her politely away.

Now that their totally hot fun has been interrupted, and because James got Kirsten so worked up in those few short seconds they were at it, she really needs a cigarette. Unfortunately for both of them, she’s all out. James being the stand up guy that he is offers to drive and go get her some. As Joanna Newsom plays on the old record player (Joanna Newsom on vinyl?) and Kirsten knocks back a beer, a knock comes yet again from the door – this time much slower, and much louder. Through the security of the wooden door, Kirsten asks who is there, to which the young voice from the shadows again asks for Tamara. After informing the voice that she has already been here before, we can hear retreating footsteps.

Now somewhat afraid, Kristen calls James’ cell phone and tells him to come home quickly, just before the phone is cut off. Kirsten goes to get her own cell and finds that it is out of batteries and needs to be plugged in. As she wanders around the house, checking the windows to see if the young girl is outside anywhere, our lead villain finally makes his first quiet appearance – watching Kristen from the edge of the next room, already inside of the hom, a hood-like mask drawn over his face. This quiet introduction lasts an uncomfortably long time (in an awesome, horror kind of uncomfortable way), yet without it seeming unbelievable that Kristen does not spot him. When she eventually turns around the masked-man is gone, but seconds later she hears a door being shut. Grabbing a knife she goes to investigate and finds some things amiss in the house that obviously lead to someone having been inside with her. She returns to the spot where she had plugged in her phone only to find it missing. And then the knocking returns.

Hearing another noise at the window Kristen moves to investigate, and, drawing back the curtains, she is now confronted by the hooded man who had watched her earlier. Terrified, Kristen hides in a back room of the house until James returns and finds her in hysterics. Skeptical of Kirsten’s story, James says that he has left his cell phone in his car and will go and get it, only to find that his car has been smashed up and his cell phone has also been taken. The couple returns to the car together and this is when the torture-through-terrifying begins as James at last sees what Kristen already has. Over the next hours until early day-light finally comes, the couple is chased and menaced by a voiceless “family “ of three mask-wearing psychopaths who over-and-over again taunt them torturously until eventually, as day finally breaks, the two of them end up bound beside each other and come face-to-face with the menacing-Mansons.
Finally being confronted by them, Kristen asks them ‘why?’ to which the young girl replies ‘because you were home’.

Perhaps I enjoyed this movie more because I am somewhat mourning the lack of Halloween on this side of the pond, but, the very minimal presence of blood and gore in this movie, along with absolute creepiness of the villains and the manner in which they induce fear for no obvious reason, really made this one great. My only qualm about this movie would have to be the publicity-stunt-like addition of a disclaimer at the beginning of the film which states that the movie is ‘based on true events’, which upon further investigation one quickly finds out is not exactly true. Speedman and Tyler are both superbly understated in their roles, there is no obscene over-dramafication by either one. And, although at first I thought the movie might have done well without the back story of their relationship in turmoil, I found that, in fact, it added a necessary element of distance and mistrust between the two characters.
All in all a good one.


the coelacanth said...

jesus - you are a machine. i just posted a long comment to mother of tears, and i check the main page and there's another long post up by you. i'm not going to read it yet, because i plan on watching the strangers tonight. i'll comment once i've seen it though.

La Sporgenza said...

Jesus... since when did we turn into horror and gore central?. Next thing we'll be reviewing bloody children's movies. Miss you K. Hope you're well.

the coelacanth said...

well, to be fair, it is october...

tom's finally on board, in case you hadn't noticed. he even left a comment under rochester racing. inspired username too.

the coelacanth said...

yes, all in all a good one. couple of things bothered me:

1) not sure if you noticed, but while she's waiting for speedman, tyler, in her nervousness, lights up a cigarette! the very cigarettes she was out of! continuity error, or did i miss something there?

2) the wilco and joanna newsom songs (as you said, implausibly on vinyl, and at a summer house, too?) really took me out of the film. perhaps because it seemed like the director was trying to match the goings on onscreen with the overly-loud-in-the-mix lyrics of the song (never a good thing). it was almost like "hey - look, we've got joanna newsom in the soundtrack, this isn't some nu-metal torture/gore film, AND we're cool..." perhaps only because i was familiar with the songs, it detracted from the experience for me.

4)if you liked this, you should definitely check out the 2006 french film Them (Ils). far more effective, and working under a very similar premise, Them was rumoured to be the direct inspiration for the Strangers. if you can track it down on that side of the pond (dark sky put it out over here, not sure who the uk distributor would be - or try to find it online).

the coelacanth said...

oops, that "4" was supposed to be a "3".

Chandles said...

I agree Joe, about the music being a bit off-putting. If I recall there's actually a moment when Liv Tyler is wandering around the house and Newsom is singing some lyrics "about let's play outside" while the murderer stalks about the property. A tad too obvious.

But the cigarette; she stuffs it out and saves it when they go into the house. Cause she's smart like that apparently.

the coelacanth said...

and i'm dumb like that, apparently. thanks for the clarification.