The following review is based upon true
events. Every opinion written has come from actually sitting
through The Strangers. That runs counter to the movie
itself, which claims a root in truth it simply couldn't
That's not to say it isn't without scares.
Director Bryan Bertino has a sense of patience that serves
suspense well. However, he's also working extremely hard
to cover up for the flaws of the screenwriter, coincidentally
himself. Aside from having created that somewhat scary question
and answer: "Why are you doing this to us?" "Because you
were home", Bertino resorts to mostly clichéd dialogue and
unexplained behavior. Some of that is meant to be chilling,
but eventually, it just gets tiresome.
It begins with a stentorian voice-over
giving crime statistics. Since we've seen and heard that
device in several bad slasher movies, let's all just admit
that means a movie's sinking before it even begins. Then
the voice-over admits that what happened to James Hoyt (Scott
Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) isn't really known.
So let's give in to ninety minutes or so of as creepy speculation
as we possibly can.
What we do know is that Bertino dances
around this being the night they would have broken up. Rose
petals litter the floors of James' country house, in hopes
that Kristen would have accepted his marriage proposal.
Despite flashbacks of happiness and loving looks, she said
no, leaving the two for an uncomfortably silent weekend
in the country.
If only that strange blonde girl hadn't
knocked on the door and asked "Is Tamara here?"
Okay, so that gives the script two genuinely
creepy moments, because for some reason, the name Tamara
evokes psychotic ghosts in my mind. Apologies to all readers
named Tamara; I'm sure that none of you give off ectoplasm.
Nor does anyone in this movie, as the horror is all supposed
to be real.
For a while, and again, it's testament
to Bertino's patience, the horror does all come from a legitimate
sense of the unknown. A frightened Kristen wanders around
the house after sending James out for cigarettes - in the
middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night - and many
of the jumps and chills could be in her own head. Then the
guy in the gunny sack mask steps out behind her and…
Well, there's where things move effectively
even as they fall apart. The audience gets freaked out,
but eventually this bizarre game of standing behind the
victim becomes rote. Why it doesn't make sense is that it's
done for our benefit, not for any one's in the film,
thus knocking us out of what effective reality Bertino wants
to create. Perhaps the title should have been The Mindeffers,
except that despite Kristin's fear, the strangers aren't
doing nearly as much to her as they are to us.
Still, they play a couple of nifty tricks,
though Bertino misses a couple of possibilities when a third
relative innocent (Glenn Howerton) enters the scene. Eventually,
Bertino and the killers run out of things to do. Once the
creepy masks play out, it becomes a game of "oh, yeah, we
forgot about this detail."
Suddenly the house has a lonely, wind-blown
swing set. When Kristin trips in front of it, you just know
that means we're suddenly going to see one of the killer
dolls swinging lazily in it. Midway through, the gunny sack
face develops asthma - a nice touch, but one that feels
like an afterthought when just standing menacing isn't enough.
(Few people realize this, but Jason Voorhees suffers from
If this had been a short film, it would
have been terrific. Of course, short horror films don't
really play in this market, but it could work. Bertino manages
to achieve a lot without any gore, so that when blood finally
does spatter, it seems like a sop to audience expectations.
By that time, blood and bone offer only cheap thrills.
So Bryan Bertino may be a director to watch.
It would be interesting to see him on something with a little
more heft to it, instead of just cheap thrills that can
all be spoiled in a movie poster and a two-minute trailer.
And if you've seen those, you've seen all you need to of