The Strangers is a film that was never going to live up to its trailer. That shot of Liv Tyler standing unknowing in the kitchen, while a mysterious man with a bag over his head stands in the background is probably infamous by now. And sadly, nothing beats seeing that for the first time. I went into this film thinking that it would be genuinely creepy. The trailer for another film titled Bagman really says it best. "There's nothing more frightening than a guy looking in your window with a bag on his head." Not sure if that's true, but it's still pretty scary anyway. And yet, I'm shocked by how...meh this movie was.
The Strangers is both written and directed by newcomer Bryan Bertino. The film's direction is just as it should be. He has a real eye and he knows how to direct the viewer's eye. It's the writing part that I might leave to someone else next time around, if I were him. The screenplay is incredibly hollow, though I guess I appreciate what he was trying to do here...is appreciate the right word? I'll just say that I understand. He's trying to strip away typical cliches of the "slice 'em up" horror-genre by first introducing these two characters and their hazy backstory. Essentially, Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple who are clearly going through a rough patch. He has recently proposed to her, and she's rejected. The tension's so thick you could cut it with a knife, no pun intended. Also he's kind of behaving like a petulant child, if you ask me. Of course this all becomes irrelevant when they go to his family's summer home in the middle of East Jesus Nowhere (thank you Diablo Cody) and the pair soon find themselves under siege by three masked attackers. Fine. But there are so many plotholes, it's almost embarrassing that whoever read this screenplay and chose to finance didn't catch them. For instance, if she rejected his proposal, why then would he still take her up to his summer house with rose petals on the bed and champagne at the ready? Why not just go home? Why do characters in horror movies always tell each other "you must have imagined it," or "that didn't happen" or some variation on that sentiment? If someone tells me that an intruder came into the house, then we're leaving, whether it's true or not. Why chance it?
I would be more forgiving of little things such as these if the movie were actually scarier. Not to say that there aren't some genuinely frightening moments. For instance, the first time one of the strangers knocks on the door and asks for "Tamara." She's not masked, but her face is obscured by the darkness. They tell her she has the wrong house, and she responds with a menacing "See ya later." But for the most part, the movie pretty much blows its wad during the first third, leaving the last two parts kind of stagnant and predictable. And there was no reason whatsoever for this story (which I seriously doubt is "based on true events" ) to unfold the way it did when you have a group of two perfectly capable adults versus a group of three perfectly capable adults, the former of which has a loaded shotgun at their disposal.
I was actually excited about this film, which is saying a lot, because I rarely get excited about, or even have the desire to see horror films. But it was so richly disappointing.