The Strangers (2008) – Review

4 Stars


From the opening moments of The Strangers it is abundantly clear that we are in the hands of a talented filmmaker, with newcomer Bryan Bertino. This is one of the most absorbing and intense American horror films of the last decade. I hesitate to use the moniker ‘horror film’, because of the negative feelings the genre tends to perpetuate. This is beyond the usual mad slasher chopping up teenagers, instead The Strangers shares more in common with effective low-key thrillers from the 1970’s. It takes about 20 minutes, for the terror really to kick into gear but the first act is so instrumental in building audience investment in these characters, that it is time well spent.

We meet a couple returning home from a friend’s wedding reception, they sit in the car together silently. She has tears in her eyes, he looks dejected and instantly our curiosity is peaked. Turns out James (Scott Speedman) proposed to Kristen (Liv Tyler) moments before and things did not go as planned. So as the couple drives back to the vacation home they are sharing for the evening, few words are exchanged. Once at the isolated house they slowly begin to communicate, but it is in half sentences and deflection. Much like how similar conversations happen in real life. At four a.m. there is a loud knock at the front door, it is a woman asking if someone is home. This sets off an absolutely unsettling 95 minutes of tension.

In essence The Strangers is a ‘boo’ movie, the kind in which jumps are produced from sudden movement into the frame. Yet credit must be given for the outstanding technical craftsman ship of the entire enterprise. Bertino working with his sound engineers have wisely chosen to use silence as a major tool in building tension. Yet there is also a generous amount of clever sound design. These technical attributes mixed with the primal fear of being trapped and stalked by unseen predators are key assets to this unforgiving suspenseful thriller.

Some fantastic visuals, and effective framing let us see as the Strangers of the title hangs around in the edges and just out of focus in the background of many compositions. This keeps the viewer one step ahead of the characters at all times, leading to a mounting sense of dread as the film progresses to its inevitable, and startling conclusion. Once again I must point out that Bertino has staged the film with brute efficiency, this is a strongly crafted picture without resorting to indulgences in flashiness. It comes on, and delivers a roller-coaster of ride of chills. How effective is The Strangers? Halfway through the screening I had to get up and make sure every window, and door was secured and locked. I’d say that’s getting the job done.

Director: Bryan Bertino
Stars: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler

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