Published on August 28th, 2015 | by Clint Davis
The Strangers 
Summary: A chilling throwback to '70s home invasion horror. Although this flick loses much of its novelty after the first half, it does feature two endearing lead characters.
R | 86 min.
Director: Bryan Bertino | Screenplay: Bryan Bertino
Starring: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman
Studio: Vertigo Entertainment, Mandate Pictures | Distribution: Rogue Pictures, Intrepid Pictures
We exist in a culture of fear…that may be a dramatic way to kick off a movie review but it’s totally true. Just look at what’s on TV — network shows like Criminal Minds and CSI depict innocent women being picked off and mutilated inside their own homes randomly by crazed killers, while the local evening news is full of crime and house fires.
The 2008 film The Strangers feeds on the idea that we are scared to even sit in our own homes.
In this box office hit, writer/director Bryan Bertino puts his characters in a desperate situation as they become prey for a trio of psychopaths. Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are a couple whose relationship is on the rocks following a friend’s wedding ceremony. The pair are crashing at James’s family’s vacation house in the country when they hear a hard knocking on the front door, followed by an innocent looking blonde woman asking the film’s most infamous question, “Is Tamara home?” …unfortunately, Tamara isn’t home and the peaceful evening evolves into a home invasion that borders on fetishistic.
The three villains in The Strangers, identifiable only by their creepy masks, seem to get off on the fear they inflict on these two people. What makes these killers scary isn’t anything out of the realm of possibility — it’s simply the fact that they could be lurking anywhere. They utter almost no dialogue and the selection of their victims is completely random — proven by the disconnected response to James’s question of why they are doing it — “Because you were home.”
Horror is all about making the audience squirm and nothing does that better than making them feel uneasy in their most comfortable places. In Psycho, Hitchcock ruined the shower just like Spielberg spoiled the beach with Jaws, Bertino attempts to make an evening at home feel threatening in The Strangers. Those previous films are of course masterpieces and while this movie has some genuinely scary moments, it just doesn’t peters out at some point.
The scale of this picture is what ultimately cripples it. We’ve got a tiny cast with only two speaking roles, one claustrophobic setting, and an entire movie to fill! Even at just 86 minutes, The Strangers has too much down time, meaning it could have made a great episode of one of those aforementioned television shows but is a bit slim for a feature film. After a while, you just want to see something…anything happen! We can only see Liv Tyler crouching and crying so many times before it feels redundant.
The Strangers is highly reminiscent of another favorite of the home invasion subgenre, Michael Haneke’s brutal Funny Games. If you’ve seen either version of that film, you’ll feel like The Strangers is simply a watered-down version. While this movie has a broader appeal, it also sacrifices some of the unflinching grit of Funny Games. Haneke’s film was every bit as frightening but was ultimately more effective because the villains were visible and interacting with their victims from start to finish — they felt more like guests than intruders before they started terrorizing.
If you’re seeking deeper meanings behind the violence of The Strangers, I suppose you could say Bertino is warning against the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. If Kristen and James had been outside enjoying the evening, perhaps on a run or at the movies, instead of sitting at home, they would have been spared by the killers…okay, that’s a bit of a reach. There’s also a startling scene that could serve as a warning against home gun ownership — but I still think the movie is a great advertisement for home security systems.
In a world of sequels and prequels, it’s astounding that a successful, original horror picture like The Strangers hasn’t yet spawned a sequel (that’s reportedly coming soon though). Although most of us are scared to death of anything outside our four walls, I’m sure that movie will top the box office at least for a little while because, hey, at lease it’s not happening at my house…