Sunday, April 13, 2014

Because they were home: The Strangers (2008)

The Strangers (2008) (AKA "The Faces")
Rating: ***1/2
Starring: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward

Back in 2006, France released Ils (or Them for you non-French), a home invasion thriller that borrowed some slasher elements and churned it up to create something intense and utterly realistic. Cliches such as investigating noises in the dark as well as renting cabins deeply isolated in the woods may still be present, but at least the directors of that film knew how to make the cast work and their choices realistic.

In 2008, a similarly plotted horror film called The Strangers came out, also focusing on a couple in a cabin deep in the woods only to be terrorized by intruders later that night. What sets this apart from Them though was that the clichés are more exploited, or at least it appears to be.

The film opens with the aftermath; three bodies are found bloodied in a lakeview cabin by two Mormon boys. A car outside is burnt to scrap and signs of struggle and attack was found all over the house.

We then see a couple at a wedding party, hours prior to this discovery; James Hoyt and Kristen McKay spends the night in Hoyt's backwoods cabin with james hoping for that sweet "yes" as he proposes to Kristen. This unfortunately lead to a rocky strain on their relationship when she rejects him and left the two in a state of awkwardness and disappointment.

The silence was broken, however, when a girl came knocking at the door asking for someone they didn't know and then leaves when she realize she's at the wrong house. Brushing this incident as a random encounter, James leaves Kristen to buy some cigarettes after phoning in a friend to pick him up. This proves to be a mistake when strange things starts happening around the cabin in his absence; things are moved, phones end up burnt in fireplaces, more strange knockings; it soon reveals that the girl they encountered before has returned. And she brought friends.
Do you see him?
As a whole, The Strangers felt more like the climax of a slasher movie drawn out to a feature as in most cases, the last third of a film from that sub-genre always involved our leads discovering the murders and try their best to outwit and survive their attackers. The Strangers did this, though with a disappointing drawback, by making the two leads undergo a troubled relationship early on the film, rattling our sense of empathy and tension for them. We can't root for these people since we no longer feel frightened for their future but rather we're now merely observing ordinary people that may or may not deserve what's coming to them due to their sad and/or disappointing choices.
And why not just run them over with your car?
Of course, I'm not saying they deserved being terrorized in their own home by three deranged intruders but any further reason to root for them or find any interest for these casts are troubled.

There's no real story, too, as most of the movie's emphasis were more on the stalkings and psychological torture the intruders are unleashing to their victims which further frustrates some (or rather most) viewers due to sadi victims' cliched responses from these attacks. What was working for the movie, however, are its slick look and well handled direction when it comes to evoking tension and shock scares from these scenes.

The film kept a gritty and retro-looking exploitation-like feel as the villains have no backstory and their identities were obscured all though the movie; though in today's day and age, you can simply browse through the web to see what these killers really look like without their masks, the effect of their lack of identity and motive sinks in quite nicely as a sense of catharsis can be felt out of the sheer randomness of their crime. Add the fact the film was based on real cases of home invasions and unsolved murders, and you probably will have the urge to check your locks before going to bed after seeing this movie.

It's not a perfect thriller but The Strangers knew what it wanted, just failed to see how to make it work properly. If they had given us a more worthy cast or set character for these killers to take on, we would have something better to talk about in this review. For fans of plot-less yet scare-driven thrillers, you could give this one a shot.

1 Male shot on the face with a shotgun
1 male knifed to death
Total: 2


  1. Not the best, but definitely one of the better home invasion flicks of the last few years. Love the scene where Liv's standing in the living room and we see one of the masked bastards creeping in the back

    1. hence why I always look back.

      goosebumps were dead on that woman. 9u9