The Strangers

Tall, dark and dull.

Released in 2008, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 30 Nov 2008 by Scott Morris
The Strangers image

James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) go to their remote family getaway and are then stalked by a couple of murderous freaks in masks.

Um, I'm not sure what else to tell you about it, although as with all films when reduced to one sentence it sounds substantially more pony than it actually is. While, yes, at heart it's another slasher film ala a number of films that approaches infinity, it's certainly one of the more polished and likeable efforts.

The strained relationship that the two leads have coming into the film seems natural enough and engenders sympathy far more effectively than the usual beer-swilling teen numpties who often take the lead in horror films, and tension is built quite nicely throughout.

It's refreshing to see bad guys that are simply bad humans and not some inexplicable supernatural boogeyman, and their complete absence of explanations for their actions makes them all the more disturbing.

The Strangers image

I rather want to like this a lot more than I'm able to justify. It's only real flaw is something of a reliance on the sudden orchestral stabs school of scaremongering, which is a little disappointing, and it feels rather stretched even at a relatively short running time of 85 minutes. It repeats the same 'bad guy stalking someone down a corridor' trick altogether too often, and the leads display the same survival skills as a small potato.

The biggest problem I have with it is the opening disclaimer which tells us, somewhat laughably that this is inspired by real events, and that the lead characters were found dead. This immediately scuppers much of the routes to build tension, as there's no longer a question of if the characters will survive, which would have been perfectly plausible, instead reducing to a guessing game of when they're going to cop it.

I'm sure you don't need me to explain why that might be less than optimal. While it's certainly a better rehash of Halloween than the Rob Zombie version was, it's still flawed up the wazoo and difficult to recommend. If you're bored of the usual genre treadmill then this makes a decently interesting change, but market forces show that this is precisely the sort of change the usual horror audience does not want.

Who the target market is for this, then, is something I'm not quite sure about. It's different enough from most horror films to alienate that audience, but not interesting or varied enough to move into the more mainstream thriller audience. I can't see who I'd recommend this to, were it interesting enough to be recommended. Thankfully, it's not interesting enough, which saves me that dilemma. If you do end up sat in front of it then it's not too terrible a film, certainly in comparison to most horror outings, but how on earth you wound up sitting in front of it is a question for the ages.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Bryan Bertino
Cast list:
Scott Speedman (James Hoyt)
Liv Tyler (Kristen McKay)
Gemma Ward (Dollface)
Kip Weeks (Man in the Mask)