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There’s Someone Out There

October 13th, 2010 · 4 Comments

As days get shorter, nights get longer and All Hallow’s Eve beckons, I can say that I won’t be wandering the streets dressed as Chewbacca begging for candy. What I can’t say is whether or not at my age, horror movies still have any surprises left in them. In the search for originality, it’d be a good idea to start anywhere but Hollywood. For the month of October, I take a trip around the globe to see what’s scaring some of my favorite countries these days.

The Strangers (2008)
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Written by Bryan Bertino
Produced by Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Nathan Kahane
86 minutes (theatrical version)/ 88 minutes (unrated DVD version)

Freaks, psychos and a leprechaun have launched horror franchises, but The Strangers includes three of the best villains to come along in a while with a kitchen sink thriller that among other things actually offers a point of view. Bryan Bertino had written four scripts in his life and was working as a grip on a low budget movie. Bertino had read Helter Skelter as a kid after his father actually gave him a copy and he was inspired to write a thriller that focused not so much on killers, but the victims who never knew who was targeting them or why. In the fall of 2004, Bertino’s script The Strangers landed him a manager, who found buyers in Doug Davison and Roy Lee of Vertigo Entertainment. The producers partnered with Nathan Kahane, president of Mandate Pictures, who had a distribution deal with Rogue Pictures.

After other directors were considered, Bertino was offered the chance to make his feature film debut on a budget of roughly $9 million. The exterior of the ‘70s era ranch house was found in Timmonsville, South Carolina. Interiors were filmed in a warehouse in nearby Florence, where the production constructed a collapsible house they could shoot inside. While the couple in Bertino’s script is never really engaging, Liv Tyler gives a gutsy performance that’s in another league from the dead teenagers of the horror genre. When it comes to terror, the rookie filmmaker delivers with the aid of a sensational sound mix. The Strangers is not a movie to be watched alone in the dark. Finally, the masked boogeymen are a gift of imagination, conjured out of darkness with identities and motives left mysteries for the viewer to interpret.

On February 11, 2005, Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and her boyfriend James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) return from a wedding reception in the wee hours to the rustic summer home of the Hoyt family. With their relationship on the rocks after Kristen turned down James’s marriage proposal, the couple are in the throes of making up when they’re interrupted by a knock on the door. Obscured in shadow, a blonde asks: “Is Tamara home?” Turning the stranger away, James offers to pick up some cigarettes for his soon to be ex-girlfriend. Left alone, Kristen hears another knock from the same woman asking the same question. Kristen calls James on the house phone and urges him to come back, but the line goes dead. Surrounded by frightening noises, she looks out a window to find Man In the Mask (Kip Weeks) staring back at her.

Convinced that someone has been in the house, Kristen retreats to a bedroom until her boyfriend returns. From the garage, the couple observes Dollface (Gemma Ward), the strange blonde, standing in the street with a mask covering her face. James leaves the house to retrieve his cell phone out of the car, but is spooked by a third masked stranger, Pin-Up Girl (Laura Margolis). Attempting to flee in their car, Kristen & James are rear ended by a pickup truck in the driveway. James manages to locate and load the family shotgun and when Man in the Mask takes apart the door with an axe, James repels the home invasion. A friend (Glenn Howerton) drops by to check on the couple but does not live long enough to render assistance. Without knowing who their attackers are or what they want, Kristen & James try to survive the night.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 55,773 users: 48% for The Strangers

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 47 for The Strangers

What do you say?

Tags: 24 hour time frame · Ambiguous ending · Bathtub scene · Famous line · Forensic evidence · Psycho killer · Woman in jeopardy

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 J.D. // Oct 13, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I thought that this film was pretty good up until the ending where it seemed to devolve into a torture porn exercise which is a shame, IMO. I thought the atmosphere and mood were very effective and the film was well shot.

  • 2 Jeff // Oct 13, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    It’s certainly a well-crafted movie and is better-made than most of its ilk. I don’t know about ‘point of view’ though since the movie doesn’t really seem to have anything to say aside from ‘psychos are scary’.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Oct 13, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    J.D.: The Strangers isn’t pulling a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes because the people love the ending. I think the entire movie works for me because I’ve read Helter Skelter and what always freaked me out, in addition to the killers creeping around the house, turning door knobs or moving furniture, was the complete randomness of it. “Because you were home” is a great line. Thanks for commenting!

    Jeff: For me, “point of view” can encompass style as well as substance. You can argue that The Strangers has a whole lot of one and not much of the other, but I loved the choice to keep the perspective on the victims and not FBI profile or explain who the killers were. How much better would this movie had been if we found out they were Satan worshipers, or after some gold buried in the garage? Thanks for commenting!

  • 4 haa // Aug 8, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Lack of POV is the point, which in itself is a POV.
    Its just nihilistic & pointless, which is exactly what makes it so brutal, especially the ending. Very nice 70’s vibe

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