Monday, June 2, 2008

The Strangers

Much in the way of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, The Strangers is a non-conventional horror film about maniacs who like to terrorize people and give no motive what so ever.

Forget the blood and guts garbage that is Saw and Hostel, this is the shit that really sends chills up your spine.

From the opening disclaimers, “true story, date and setting, events unknown” the film wants you to know that it is not just a movie, that this could, and has, happened before. How much of it is true I couldn’t say, film’s take liberties with the “based on a true story” tagline. Director Bryan Bertino has said that he took the plot from his own life experiences and mixed them with the stories of Charles Manson’s “Family”. Either way, The Strangers plants a seed of haunting familiarity.

Kristen (Liv Tyler) and her boyfriend, James (Scott Speedman) go to his reclusive, darkly lit summer home after a wedding reception. The interest of this film is what Bertino reveals through emotion. A tear down Tyler’s face hints that this is not a romantic, weekend getaway. This is not a perfect, fairy tale couple, they have real human problems and are about to be forced into real, yet hellacious, circumstances.

As the first act slowly (yet marvelously) develops, we sit in cold anticipation for the terror to begin. Unsettling camera work from Peter Sova keeps us on edge when suddenly a bang (not a knock) on the front door startles us out of our seats. James tells the blonde-haired girl that she has the wrong house. She leaves, but we know she will soon be back.

If you’ve seen the preview, then you’ve seen too much. In one bravado shot, Tyler, temporally alone in the house, smokes a cigarette in the living room as a masked man steps into frame, watching her move about the kitchen, waiting patiently for his moment of attack, only to retreat back into the unknown.

The three masked stalkers do everything in their power to haunt the couple. They bang, scrap, break glass, cut the lights and phones, anything to further the mayhem. Tyler, and Speedman in particular, are fantastic. The small details (Speedman doesn’t know how to assemble or load a shotgun) are completely believable causing us to sympathize for them.

So, why would you want to see this? Because it is something new. The blood is little, but the terror is thorough. Sure it retreats to some familiar, horror-movie antics (why does the female always fall down while running away?), but at 90 minutes, first time director Bertino keeps his film fast, fierce and refreshingly scary. B+

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