Sunday, June 01, 2008


I'm imagining some ill-informed pseudo-intellectual heading on down to the multiplex thinking he's about to see an adaptation of Albert Camus' The Stranger. I'm imagining sitting behind this person and shrieking "I've got your existentialism right here!" right before one character gets his face shotgunned into a substance resembling a hearty chili con carné. Yes, I need to get out more.

No, think Wes Craven rather than Camus. Specifically, The Strangers reminded me of Last House on the Left, with it's brutal victimization of two people, and its pervasive sense of dread and nihilism. The movie definitely earns its R-rating, but this isn't from the gore for gore's sake school of movie making. There are several examples of the classic Hitchcock definition of suspense in which the audience is shown the danger but the characters are not, and despite a few missteps The Strangers proves to be a white knuckle ride worthy of the best that Six Flags has to offer.

James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) arrive at James's family's secluded vacation home in the wee hours of the morning following a friend's wedding reception. The evening has not gone well. James's proposal to Kristen having been met with rejection, we watch the two struggle through an awkward civility, and we get the distinct impression that this is a deal-breaker for the relationship. A knock comes on the door during what may well prove to be a round of break up sex. Concealed in the shadows, a young woman asks the couple if Tamara is home.

James and Kristen tell the girl she has the wrong house and send her on her way. She doesn't go far, though, and she's not alone. The girl and her two companions, a man and another woman, mount an increasingly tense series of assaults upon the couple. The assailants faces are covered by eerily simplistic yet horrifying masks and they want only to do very bad things.

Sometimes horror works best when it functions as a nightmare. No reason is given for the terror, it just is. I had been wondering if The Strangers could sustain those scares from the trailer that I'm not ashamed to classify as the "oh God I just peed a little" kind. I applaud writer/director Bryan Bertino's decision to leave certain things unexplained and to give the the film a less than upbeat ending. The Strangers is pretty dark, so dark that when you leave the theater you'll want to go home, find someone you love and hug them. Just make sure they're not carrying a big freakin' knife.

As for the "inspired by true events" claim, I call shenanigans on whoever decided to make that claim. I suspect it may be another intentional homage to 70s horror, and that this film's relationship to true events is about as accurate as that of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is to say "not very."

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