Fear is a funny thing.
Sometimes it is the simplest of things that scare us the most, like being alone in the house, a sudden cold chill or the lights suddenly going off.
According to Bryan Bertino it was one such small incident that inspired him to write and direct The Strangers.
One evening when he was a child an unknown visitor came to his door and asked for someone who wasn’t there. The stranger left, but later Bertino found out that other homes in his neighbourhood had been broken into.? The same event occurs near the opening to his movie. Young couple Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are staying in a isolated house after an evening out and suddenly hear a knock on their door. The stranger involved here and her two friends, however have a much more disturbing purpose to their visit than to simply rob them.
The Strangers follows the traditional pattern of many other psycho stalker films such as Vacancy, Funny Games and endless others as the pair are gradually scared and terrorised, while trying to evade their tormentors until the final fateful finale.
In fact it bears so much in common in plot and feel with the excellent and horrible 2006 French film Ils (or Them as its called here) I did wonder at first if it was an American remake.
Interestingly both also claim to be based by real events although neither truly is. Both are products of the conventions of the cinema they come from and Ils‘ end revelation is slightly more dark and harrowing than the rather abrupt ending to Bertino’s story, although both do stand alone and deserve viewing.
What sets The Strangers apart from other Hollywood slashers is its extremely slow build, which manages to keep the intensity of the fear as high as possible, for as long as possible.
This is not a movie dependent on cheap frights and gore, it is a subtle, quiet, creepy film that frightens you more by keeping you in the dark – in more ways than one.
The use of sound is excellent and it creates the perfect chilling mood as the couple are intimidated by the perpetual banging on the door, and unsettled by the strange noises emanating from outside.
Both Tyler and Speedman are great, never taking things too far or acting too theatrically, thus making the horrific situation even more realistic.
In refusing to reveal the trio of masked maniacs’ faces or motivation, we are more troubled by them and what they have planned for the ‘all to real and sympathetic’ couple, whose only crime is literally being home.
What is most scary about The Strangers is that we can all imagine being in the same horrendous situation. The film makes sure to heighten its own realism, to play on that fact creating a genuinely frightening movie.
If there is one lesson to be learnt here, it’s ‘don’t live in the middle of nowhere’ and when a stranger comes knocking, call the police.
Additional film information: The Strangers (2008)