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When a film comes equipped with the teaser "Based On True Events", my heart typically sinks. First of all, nine times out of times, that is absolute bologna. Secondly, real life rarely translates into interesting cinema in the horror genre. And, finally, Hollywood has a way of taking 'true events' and turning them into something so outlandish that it bares no traces of actuality. So, the trailer for the new horror film "The Strangers" always had me, up until "Based On True Events". But, there was something intriguing about the trailer - about the premise. This didn't seem like your typical little horror film. It seemed like it was running on a different mechanism, of sorts. I watched the film the first time in a theatre filled with disrespectful patrons who didn't want to let the rest of the audience enjoy the picture. I had to watch it a second time. This time I was in a theatre filled with respectful patrons who wanted to enjoy a film just as much as I did. "The Strangers" is a unique and different breed of horror film. It lulls the audience into a false sense of security - did we maybe stumble into the wrong theatre? Is this some weird romantic drama? Then, suddenly, it rips the flooring out from under the audience and presents it with a terrifying scenario. "The Strangers" is not like "Hostel" or "Saw". It doesn't rely on physical torture to make the audience cringe. It relies on psychological torture. "The Strangers" is the most effective horror film of the year.
When you watch the film, forget all about the horrible voice over narration at the beginning, which explains that this was based on true events and then quotes a statistic about violent crime in the United States. Forget all about that. When we meet our lead characters, James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler), we know that something is wrong. They are returning from one of their friend's wedding receptions; James look sullen; Kristen is crying. As the first few minutes of the film unfold, we learn that James had planned to propose to Kristen and then take her back to his family's Summer home, where he had pre-prepared roses, wine and all the trimmings. Alas, his would-be fiancÚ turned down his proposal, and this is where the tension is structured. Just when you think things might be getting back to normal between the two, there is a knock at the door. But, it is not just any knock. You know something is off. What they find is a young girl, covered in shadow, who asks, "Is Tamara home?" The couple explain she must have the wrong house and she leaves. James heads off to the store to get Kristen some cigarettes. Let the games begin. The girl returns to the home, asking the same question, frightening Kristen. She soon starts hearing bizarre noises outside and seeing people in masks. When James returns, they both start experiencing these individuals and start to realize that they are being assaulted by these 'strangers'.
Most horror films are missing a key component, and that component is 'set-up'. We don't get to know the characters, therefore we don't really care when their lives are in danger. At the beginning of this film, we already care about the characters because we can tell they have been through some sort of crisis in their personal lives. The film opens with empathy for these people. The first third of the film is slow moving, intimate and very detailed in how it sets up these two characters. When the 'strangers' finally do enter the picture, we are shaken because we have been distracted by this drama for such a long period of time. Bryan Bertino, who wrote and directed the film, has a keen eye for pacing and for execution. He seems to know just how to milk the scenes of tension here for all they are worth. He understands the paralyzing fear that goes along with the realization that you are being watched and being stalked. The masks that he chooses for 'the strangers' are nothing we haven't seen or thought about before, but they are so much more frightening here because they are not attached to some supernatural entity or some escaped mental patient. There is nothing ghostly about this film, and there is nothing schizophrenic about this film. "The Strangers" possesses a quiet insanity that comes from the constant mind games that these three people orchestrate on this unsuspecting couple. "The Strangers" is about three people who just decided they wanted to torture a couple of people, and that is what the film is about. The film also gives us the best explanation from a villain about why there are doing what they are doing. A terrified Liv Tyler asks, "Why are you doing this to us?" The response - "Because you were home". That is a chilling response. To think that you are being tortured because you happened to be the name they drew out of a hat; the name they pointed to in the phone book. Now, that is genuine horror, my friends.
In terms of performances, Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler really are the picture, acting wise. I have never been a huge Liv Tyler fan, but she does an exceptional job here, especially in the way she doesn't seem like your typical idiot protagonist who does all the wrong things at all the wrong times. People want to say, "Why did she do that? I would never do that!" but no one really knows that they would do in a situation like that. Scott Speedman is also an actor I have never been impressed with, other than in the looks department, and he also does an exceptional job, especially at the beginning of the film with the more dramatic material. Speedman and Tyler have a nice chemistry together, which helps our feelings of empathy for them once the assault begins. The actors chosen to portray the three 'strangers' have the motions and the mannerisms down to a science and they really create disturbing and very chilling villains. Kip Weeks is especially worth mentioning as the character who is billed as 'The Man In the Mask'. He is the most terrifying of the three and his introduction to the film is one of the best entrances in recent horror movie history. In terms of performances, it is nice to see a horror film where the acting is the top priority and where blood and gore and all of the normal Hollywood trimmings are not the cats meow, so to speak.
If you're in the mood for a brooding, psychological and far more disturbing type of horror film, then this picture is for you. It earned close to $20 million its first weekend, which is leaps and bounds better than what most horror films have done in 2008. This makes me very happy. This is a horror film that deserves all of the money it receives. It proves that you can take a small budget, a small idea and a small setting and create a truly frightening motion picture. My two criticisms would be that I would (01) take away the opening narration which was totally unnecessary and (02) end the film about three minutes before it actually does end. The last two minutes felt like a tacked on Hollywood ending to make it seem less apocalyptic. However, when I walked out of the theatre, I pretended I had watched the film, minus those two components I just mentioned. If you do the same, you will likely enjoy "The Strangers" just as much as I did. The film uses the label "Based On True Events", and it doesn't seem implausible this time around. You can imagine something like this happening, and I think it's that possibility that makes the picture so frightening.
- added 06/05/2008, 07:00 AM
I saw this last night. It really was a good,scary
movie. Very effective. 8/10
- added 06/09/2008, 06:48 PM
I really enjoyed this movie. 10/10
- added 06/10/2008, 06:04 PM
I thought this movie was horrible. It was like
watching all the build up scenes in a good old
fashioned slasher flick without any payoff. The
whole movie was "Look out behind you....wait,
nevermind. NOW look out behind you.....nope, its
ok now". The "strangers" were not
all that scary, they looked like high-school kids
wearing masks, but you never get to see their
faces so even the whole innocents gone bad angle
didnt pan out. I imagine BEING in this situation
would be frightening but watching others go thru
it was just dull. Even the big final payoff in the
end was, well, anticlimactic.
would have been better pitched as a drama with the
little suspense as a bonus. 2/10
- added 06/11/2008, 02:43 AM
I almost completely agree with you, Dametria.
But, in that respect, alot of the reasons you
hated it, I enjoyed it for.
I didn't find
it hard to imagine myself i n their position,
though the feel of the movie was a bit too light
for my taste. This, however didn't cushion the
building suspense I felt all throughout it. I'd
easily give this a 7.5/10
- added 08/28/2008, 08:15 AM
his introduction to the film is one of the
best entrances in recent horror movie
Agreed, 110%. That introduction
was perfect, but I do have to say that they used
that trick a time or two too many. I'm going to
go with meanie on this one - I had a few quibbles
here and there, but overall, it was a damned good
- added 08/29/2008, 12:13 AM
I'm with Chad and meanie on this one. There were
a few "oh c'mon" moments, but overall
this was a damned fine horror film. It had a
fantastic buildup where you weren't quite sure how
long it would take for the movie to really kick
in, but when it did, wow. It had me on the edge of
my seat for pretty much the whole time, and I
thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it - right
until the very end. Was not impressed with the
ending, but you can't win 'em all.
8/10 from myself.
- added 08/31/2008, 07:12 PM
Terrible movie, especially for a horror film. I
enjoyed the beginning. Setting up the characters
and their situation (Which was nicely believable
too) was great. Then it just went downhill. I had
to check how long I'd been watching 3 strangers
prance around the house and scare the hell out of
the 2 main characters. 56 minutes in and they were
still going at it. Not only that, but we get the
most anti-climactic kills ever. Fair enough, it's
based on real events. That doesn't automatically
make it a good movie, and certainly doesn't make
it good material to translate to film.
- added 10/19/2008, 01:42 AM
As I watched this, I lost count of the number of
times I realized I was holding my breath.
Amazingly intense movie, although I do agree with
Billy Ray, both ends of the film should have been
- added 10/19/2008, 01:50 AM
I think the last few seconds needed to be
removed, but the first two acts were flawless. The
character development was excellent, and a nice
change. I'm sick of horror movies with the stock
- added 10/19/2008, 02:02 AM
I was referring to the voice over explaining it
was based on true events and whatnot. Especially
since that was an outright lie.
- added 10/22/2008, 01:02 AM
I have nightmares like this, and I wake up not
being able to breath. I really enjoyed this. The
only part I didn't like was Tyler falling and
hurting herself. Just once, I'd like to see a
victim not twist an ankle in the woods.
As for the narration in the being, straight out
of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
- added 03/20/2009, 05:15 PM
Once again, you guys throw out 8 and 9's, I think
this one sucked, it was nothing but a total bore.
- added 07/02/2010, 07:06 AM
was very poor. you do seem to give out some very
high scores to some trully bad movies. eg, house
of the devil so over rated
- added 09/27/2010, 01:05 PM
So much hate around the interwebs for this flick.
Don't know why... I loved it. Nice review!