Itís been eight years since Ghostface tormented horror fans and poor girls stuck home alone in Scream 3. Although completely unrelated, The Strangers features an antagonist that resembles a poor manís Ghostface and has an appropriately reduced terror quality about him. While the original Screamís opening scene with Drew Barrymore made me want to lock the door before the movie moved any farther, The Strangers barely even motivates me to glance and see if my deadbolts are in place.
The premise of The Strangers sounds tired in a world already laden with movies like Hostel and High Tension. Despite that, I wanted to give the movie a fair shake due to the cast, which features Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman. Well, maybe not so much for Speedman, who continues to leave me thoroughly unimpressed. Here he barely manages to have any chemistry with his leading actress, despite being cast opposite everyoneís favorite Lord of the Rings elven princess, but thatís okay. The script actually demands the two have an awkward relationship since we join them shortly after heís proposedÖ and been turned down.
If joining the uncomfortable couple is where the movie started, the story might have managed a bit more suspense. Unfortunately itís bogged down with an introductory narration that tells the audience how the movie is inspired by real events, but that thereís no way of knowing what brutal events actually transpired the night unknown assailants broke into the home where James Hoyt (Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Tyler) were staying. By giving me that information in the first minute of the film, the rest of the movie was pretty well spoiled of any dramatic tension for me. You see, there has to be a reason why nobody truly knows what events took place. I wonít spell it out it in case you canít piece it together on your own, but that introduction kept me from getting too invested in any of the characters.
James and Kristen spend the first third of the movie dealing with their own awkwardness, caused by Kristen rejecting Jamesís marriage proposal. Some may see some character development in that. I say if youíre going to have a movie about strangers breaking in and tormenting a couple, bring on the damn strangers quicker than this movie does. Instead we get a prolonged introduction that makes the movie feel like it has the plot of a short film stretched into a feature length picture. People were snoozing before the action even started Ė at least, those who could fall asleep through the horrible dialogue. Speedman doesnít do wonders for his character, but listening to the lines, itís not like he had a lot to work with in the first place. Tylerís lines arenít much better, but at least she makes a convincing scared person through a lot of the film. Unfortunately, even that wears off by the time the picture hits its climax.
I will commend The Strangers for two things. First, it sticks to the premise that the invaders who harass the main characters are indeed strangers; just some sickos whose only justification for their actions when pressed by Kristen are because (as the advertisements state), ďyou were home.Ē I fully expected some ridiculous rationalization tacked on just for the sake of explaining everything and it was nice not to have it. Sometimes events like this are more terrifying by underplaying them and leaving the ďanswersĒ to the audienceís imagination.
Secondly, the movie doesnít attempt to join the all-so-popular ďtorture pornĒ subgenre. The bulk of the action in The Strangers (once it gets going) is simple cat-and-mouse style suspense with very little emphasis on any kind of gore. Unfortunately itís done with such a distinguished pattern that anyone who has seen more than one of these kinds of movies will easily recognize and predict whatís going to happen through most of the picture. Thereís a few times the story avoids the completely clichťd twists I expected through my predictions, although that would appear to be more because of a lack of creativity than anything else. The story is simple; too simple in fact, and the audience might find themselves entertained by their own plot ideas instead of whatís actually happening on the screen.
The Strangers may have played better as a short, fifteen to twenty minute picture. Instead its simple plot is drawn out for far too long and played by actors who either canít handle the material or appear bored with it by the time the credits roll. While Iím glad to see first time writer/director Bryan Bertino avoid some decisions that would have produced a completely different movie than what was advertised, there just isnít anything of interest here. The movie never invests the audience enough in the characters and plays so predictably that itís hard to have much suspense in this so-called thriller.
Reviewed By: Rafe Telsch