Wednesday 27th October 2021

The Strangers (15)
Directed by: Bryan Bertino
Reviewed by: James Smith

A young woman is at home all alone. There is a knock at the door - but no one is outside. However, unknown to her, masked strangers are stalking through the house planning to kill her. This is the classic horror scenario that The Strangers uses as its central premise. Liv Tyler (One Night at McCool's, The Lord of the Rings) plays the young woman in question, coming home with her boyfriend, played by Scott Speedman (Underworld), to their isolated house in the woods late one evening.

"Do you reckon this knife is big enough to cut my butternut squash?"

She has just turned down his marriage proposal, turning what was meant to be a romantic night into an emotional situation where the couple can hardly bear to be in the same room as each other, let alone stuck together in the middle of nowhere. When Speedman (conveniently) goes out to buy some cigarettes, Tyler starts to hear strange noises. Her mobile phone goes missing and pretty soon the sounds are revealed to be three masked strangers who for some reason want to terrify and ultimately kill the couple.

The scenario described above is pure psychological horror: a situation familiar to everyone turns it into one we are terrified could happen. The Strangers even opens with the statement that "What you are about to see is inspired by true events" and gives a date for the events (apparently, this claim is completely made up, but it demonstrates the point). This classic set up, together with effective use of handheld cameras, eerie sound effects and virtually no music, manages to create a very tense atmosphere for the first two thirds of the film and has several scary moments, a must for any horror movie.

It is interesting to contrast this to recent American horror movies such as Hostel, Saw and their sequels. It often seems to be forgotten that letting the audience use their imagination is usually far more terrifying than showing lots of explicit violent torture scenes. This has been known for a long time by the best horror directors: Wes Craven used set up above for the opening scene of Scream, a movie which deconstructed the horror movie genre, while managing to scare them at the same time. It is therefore quite refreshing to see The Strangers reverting back to psychological horror. One of the best scenes simply has Liv Tyler in the kitchen as one of the masked strangers lingers unmoving in the background behind her. Even when there is some explicit violence, it is not really introduced to scares us, but more to inflict further psychological torture on the main characters. From this point of view, The Strangers works quite well.

This is director Bryan Bertino's first film and it does show some promise for the first two thirds. Unfortunately, though, the film fails miserably to have a satisfying payoff. Neither the climax, in which the main characters come mask-to-face with their tormentors, nor the ultimate revelation of the motive (which I won't spoil) are handled at all well, and the unexplained events at the beginning still don't have a logical explanation by the end. Sadly this meant that I left feeling let down and disappointed - always the danger of building up anticipation, but something that the best films don't fail at. For this reason, I don't particularly recommend The Strangers, although it is just about good enough to make it worth seeing if you are a fan of horror movies.

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Length: 85 minutes
Certificate: 15
Official Site:
IMDB Link:
Release Date: 29th August 2008

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