*SOME MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW
Sure Rogue Pictures’ THE STRANGERS has had its share of problems getting into theaters, but after a remarkable trailer the film deserved the benefit of the doubt. It was quite possibly one of the creepiest, coolest trailers in years and gave a pretty accurate portrayal of what the film is. But unfortunately for the horror fans, the film’s opening immediately establishes it as a blatant rip-off of other film’s ideas without any originality of its own.
Close your eyes and imagine this opening: Black, then the words appear on the screen, “The film you are about to see is inspired by true events,” it continues on and on about how what you’re about to see is based on the story of a couple who were brutally attacked and how millions of Americans are involved in a violent crime every year. To make matters worse, there’s a voice over with a deep creepy voice reading the dialogue to you as if we’re all blind and or can’t read. Instantaneously THE STRANGERS established itself as “inspired by” films like Platinum Dunes’ remake of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – a blatant rip-off of a TRAILER for another horror film. Before the first lick of footage graced the screen it had already told the audience – “you have seen this already.”
The thriller is about a couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) in a remote suburban house who are targeted by three dangerous masked strangers. The resulting clashes force the couple to go well beyond what they thought themselves capable of in order to survive.
Although it might sound as if a bashfest is about to ensure, it must be known that the film is equally good as it is bad. The basic core-concept is chilling as the only motive given is “because they were home” (which was revealed in the trailer). Sometimes less is more in film and not having any good reason for the torment these people endure is extremely discomforting. The entire movie took the minimalist approach as not only was the motive brief, but there is nearly no dialogue or score. The use of silence is remarkable and at times will have you holding your breath. Another classic moment – which is one of my all-time favorites in a horror film – is when the record starts skipping (like in the trailer) and the unknown visitors are tormenting them. In fact, the first half of the film really does make a valiant effort in trying to be scary, and to a certain level it succeeds. Unfortunately, at that point the fun wears thin and the rest of the movie rides on the coattails of the first 45-minutes.
As pointed out by SpookyDan, the most compelling and engaging portion of the film was the relationship between Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler’s characters. Why are they fighting, why are they sad, why are they still being nice to each other, why did they cancel their vacation, why does he want to be picked up by his friend? All of these questions make the first 45-minutes a solid, character-driven horror film, but once we get the answer to these questions the film is over. There’s nothing to look forward to other than the question of “will they escape?”
Sadly for STRANGERS, the film was released after FUNNY GAMES, VACANCY and other recent home invasions films. The subgenre is already completely worn out and to have this movie dumped in our lap now is like adding insult to injury (not that we haven’t seen the same thing done 80 times before, starting with films like SPIDER BABY and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT). The real problem is that there’s absolutely nothing original here and it’s obvious they tried to take what works and recycle it. It lacks suspense mainly because we know that Tyler and Speedman are going to die right away; even when a friend comes to help them it becomes immediately obvious his fate and how it will happen (is there anything worse than when you finish an actor’s line?).
Thumbs up to Vertigo (THE RING, THE GRUDGE, SHUTTER) for releasing an original R-rated horror film, and thankfully it’s not THAT bad. In the end THE STRANGERS is a trite home invasion film that will miss more than it will hit with the horror audience. It has plenty of merits that warrant checking it out, but like many before it, the film is completely forgettable.