Review: The Strangers (Unrated, 2008)

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This is why you never go to any summer cabin/home in the woods, ever!

Written By: Bryan Bertino
Directed By: Bryan Bertino

If you notice at the bottom of this post the category section is missing a certain category, gore. There has been a disturbing trend over the past few years to label any horror film that has any violence or blood a gore film along the lines of any of the Saw sequels, Hostel films and others. The Strangers was lumped into the gore category despite having less gore, violence and blood than a standard episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. But, people, and especially those of us who write about movies, do love to generalize and stereotype. That is why despite it’s limited use of blood, violence and complete absence of gore, The Strangers was labeled a gore film by a lot of people, with some even going so far as to call it “torture porn, just dressed up in better clothing.” Here’s a thought for those of you who do consider The Strangers torture porn or a complete gore fest, a film must actually include gratuitous torture or gore to qualify for such labels.

Now that my rant is over with, there are plenty of reasons to like The Strangers. Most of all is the sparse, almost barren design of the film. Some may consider it a drawback that there wasn’t much story to the film, but this is a case where a story wasn’t needed. A couple needs to survive an attack on their house, that’s all there is to it. The young director, Bryan Bertino, and his veteran cinematographer, Peter Sova, do some interesting things with the camera. Empty spaces are filled with lingering hooded figures, darkness is used to highlight the brightness within the house and the camera always moves to create a great deal of suspense.

The key with any great horror film is said suspense, and while The Strangers isn’t great, it does know how to build to its horror moments with true suspense. This goes back to my opening rant, but it is a joy to sit down and watch a horror movie from 2008 that understands how to use suspense to draw the viewer in and not violence or gore. While the camera work and direction do a splendid job of creating the suspense in The Strangers, the sound is what really sold me on that facet of the film. A knock on the door isn’t just a knock, it’s a crashing, thud. When mud, or some substance, is flung at the window it doesn’t just hit, it makes a jolting sound. Lastly, the performances of Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler helped to enhance the film. They certainly weren’t amazing or anything along those lines, but Tyler understood perfectly when to crumble in stunned silence and when to actually blubber and scream.

I have already highlighted the lack of a story as one possible drawback, but it wasn’t the only one. As much as I liked the beginning sequence, it allowed us to get to know something about the characters and care about their upcoming struggles, I had a couple of issues with the ending. The unmasking to me was pointless unless you were going to actually show their faces. I have no problem with the villains remaining faceless, but the removal of their masks didn’t work for me. I also didn’t like Liv Tyler’s character’s possible survival, this was a film that called for a rather bleak ending, not a possible survival. For as fresh as some of The Strangers came across as, it was still littered with plenty of horror cliches and moments you knew were coming.

Don’t listen to the detractors, The Strangers is not another torture porn horror movie. It’s more of a return to bare bones 1970’s style horror, with a focus on suspense and craftsmanship over gore and blood. Most of all it is a suspenseful, fun film that was an entertaining watch. The Strangers isn’t the best horror film out there, but in a sea of actual torture porn masquerading as horror, The Strangers offers something different and actually enjoyable.

Rating:

***

Cheer,
Bill

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