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Old 10-22-2008, 05:25 AM
Scored: 2
Views: 14,159
Strangers, The

Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: October 21, 2008

Released by: Universal
Release date: 10/21/2008
MSRP: $29.98
Region 1, NTSC
Progressive Scan
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes

inline ImageAfter the post-modern pastiche brought upon the genre by Scream, Urban Legend, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and its ilk, the slasher genre had played its course. There was nowhere for it to go but back to the basics. Producers took that literally by remaking every moderately successful slasher with nary a wink to be found. There have been a few though, like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and The Strangers, which have crafted new stories on the old template. The Weinsteins still don’t know what to do with Mandy Lane, so here we are instead with this year’s horror sleeper, The Strangers. Is this the old school the genre needs?

The Story

inline ImageWe begin with a tongue anywhere but cheek recapitulation of the introductory narrative to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The speaker does his best John Larroquette, letting us know this is based on a true story. Nobody really knows what happened, though, so not really. Anyway, slasher mythology would dictate that now that the pretext is out of the way, it’s time to introduce our zany batch of young adults. Err, not really. Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman), mope into his summer house. They went to dinner, she talked to some people he wasn’t really comfortable with, he tried to propose, she ran away, and now they just mope in silence. For about twenty minutes. He helps her take off her necklace. She has a few scoops of ice cream. That darn smoke detector doesn’t work.

inline ImageIt’s around four in the morning when finally, to break this endless relationship trifle, someone knocks on their door. James goes to answer it, but can’t seem to turn on the porch light to see who’s there (I hate it when that happens). Turns out it’s some girl who is lost and a little vacant. Whatever. So they mope around a little more. James lights a fire. Kristen realizes she’s out of smokes. James says he’ll go get some. A few more pregnant pauses. James leaves and then three people in masks start terrorizing the shit out of their house.

inline ImageKristen fights for her life, as people bang on doors from all spectrums of 5.1. All this fuss has caused the record player to skip and skip and skip and skip and skip and skip and skip. James gets home, but sure enough there are no strangers to be found. Just when James is about to write off his girlfriend as crazy, that same porch lady is seen out their window silently standing like she’s been taking posture lessons from Michael Myers. James leaves Kristen once again (they never learn), and the formula basically repeats until blood is let and the cast list dwindles considerably.

inline ImageThe Strangers, or more fittingly Ils Strangeurs, is minimalism anorexia. It’s one thing to have a motiveless, faceless killer. Final Exam proves that yes, the formula can work when other variables are developed enough to give the killer subtext. He may be a cipher, but with a diverse cast of personalities, he works as their yang. In The Strangers we are presented with nothing. We know nothing about the killers, less about the protagonists and even less about the plot. You can see how Universal bit on first-timer Bryan Bertino’s pitch. The log line is the script. Simple. How does it last ninety minutes, then? Atmosphere. When you have no story though, excessive atmosphere is like a tree clanking on your window when you’re trying to go to bed. Annoying and aimless.

inline ImageInstead, Bertino finds a new way of recreating paint drying for the silver screen, with the most laborious and self-important first act in slasher history. Pretension is thinking we should care about Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler’s petty relationship issues simply because they are Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler. I guess in a society infatuated with Britney at the beach or Angelina at a rest stop, we had it coming. When the scares finally do come, they are executed with the predictability of someone who has studied Halloween one too many times. At first though, it’s admittedly effective.

inline ImageAll the requisites are there. The scope frame with the leads cooped up in the corners so the rest can lay tensely empty. The final girl close-up only to have the masked killer quietly enter the back frame out of focus. Swings moving with nobody around. The oh-no-the-killer-is-coming-through-the-front-door-oops-it’s-only-my-boyfriend macguffin. On their own these devices are admittedly effective – always have been. Strung together though, and repeated almost elliptically, it becomes downright tedious. The blame doesn’t fall on Hollywood, with it’s faux-indie handheld aesthetic, or on the actors, who act like real people even if they aren’t written like them. Yes, the fault lies solely in the script.

inline ImageThe Great Train Robbery pioneered cross cutting between different scenes for a reason. It just becomes dull sitting in the same situation and the same place with the same characters. It became dull in the early 1900’s, and The Strangers proves it still is today. Bertino aggravates the problem by giving us no characters to care about, and then rubs his intentional ambiguity in our face when the killers all unmask for the protagonists but never for the camera. So not only is it aimless, but it’s also pretentious.

inline ImageWhat Bryan Bertino asks us to do, basically, is to care about two people he doesn’t develop outside of having a fight, and to care about three killers he refuses to unmask, develop or explain on camera. Is there a reward? Let’s see: No gore. No kills. No explanation. No rules. No curfew. No pulse. That’s the tagline for Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, but if this is what lies ahead for slashers, then it may as well die too.

Image Quality

inline ImageBertino casts the film in a warming brown hue throughout, both nostalgic and embracing as he tries to shatter your sense of familiarity. It could be neon green and I’d still be reaching for fast forward. Luckily on DVD, I can. The image quality is as pristine as you’d expect from a recent Hollywood production. Anamorphic and progressive, this 2.35:1 film is very sharp and high on detail. No edge enhancement was visible, and the colors cast an always consistent and flattering tonality. It looks good.


The Strangers has great sound design. This Dolby Digital 5.1 track really comes at you from all directions, which is very important since much of the film relies on the whereabouts of the killers through the clinks and clangs they make throughout the perimeter of the house. There’s always that low intensity bass rumble too, and that shows up with decent resonance. Dialogue is of course crystal clear, and, well, how much hiss do you hear on modern Hollywood productions? Tomandandy, always underrated, provide an effective music mix to complement the rest of the sound here, and it is all put together very well in this sterling sound track.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageAs advertised on the front of the packaging: “2 Movies In 1”. What they really meant was: “The theatrical version and the theatrical versionwith a two minute scene added near the end.” Yes, the “unrated” cut is really only the theatrical cut with a single sequence of Liv Tyler struggling during the final attack, crawling along the floor to reach for a cell phone. It’s a pretty effective scene, and gives the anemic finale a bit more beef. Definitely a keeper, but sort of anti-climactic considering all the “terror” is so PG-13 throughout. You’d think they would have at least had one more gore shot on the cutting room floor.

inline ImageAs for extra material, this release is nearly as lean as the film itself. There’s a really puffy 9-minute featurette with interviews with Liv Tyler, director Bryan Bertino, and a few other topical crew members. They do that thing that I really hate, when they try to convince themselves the film they are making is not a “horror” film, but something new. As if horror in itself had polio. Lame. The featurette has some nice shots on set though, and does show the one gore effect in application.

The only other extra are a couple of deleted scenes. Guess what, there were even MORE mope scenes than what was featured in that already epically drawn out opening. Five minutes worth. Ouch.

Final Thoughts

inline ImageThe Strangers is like paying a prostitute to engage in foreplay for a couple hours before promptly going home without a word. You have no idea about the characters, there’s no story, no payoff and worse yet this one wears a mask throughout. The image and audio look and sound sharp, so fans of this “terror film” should have no qualms about getting this for home consumption. You may want to wait, though, because the extras are short and shallow, and the unrated cut is really just a single added scene without any extra blood money. Considering the hit it was in theaters, this should be ripe for revisiting. I just wish it would stay a stranger, though. Leave my slasher genre alone.


Movie - D

Image Quality - A-

Sound - A-

Supplements - C

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 26 minutes [Theatrical]
  • Running time - 1 hour 28 minutes [Unrated]
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 [Theatrical only]
  • English subtitles
  • French subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles

  • "The Elements of Terror" featurette
  • Deleted scenes
  • Rated and unrated cuts of the film

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Old 10-23-2008, 02:02 AM
Still, a little harsh rhett?

"If a man can bridge the gap between life and death ... I mean, if he can live on after his death, then maybe he was a great man."
- James Dean
Old 10-24-2008, 02:36 AM
I thought that the movie was just one big hour and a half long moment of high tension.
tHaT dAmN dOcToR iS tRyInG tO sTaRvE mE tO dEaTh!
Old 10-24-2008, 11:06 AM
Peace, bitch
Although I don't agree with rhett on the D rating (in my opinion, The Strangers is a strong C), I still don't think that just because a horror film looks good and isn't a remake, it automatically becomes a great, or even a good, film.

I don't always agree with the majority on this forum, often because I think people here take mediocre movies and elevate them to some infinite greatness just because there's some style and some gore involved (*cough*Inside*cough*), even though there is practically nothing else worthwhile on display.

It happened with Ils, and obviously The Strangers has its defenders. I thought both films were good looking, occasionally effective but ultimately pointless and empty exercises in suspense. And not even all that good at what they were trying to exercise, either. I can live with such movies being recognized, even liked, for what little quality they bring to an admittedly dull landscape of the modern day horror genre, but I really don't understand it when people look beyond their flaws and come to their defense just because a critic calls it what it is (or worse, when they are hailed as masterpieces or classics).

So I'm with rhett on this one!
"Compared to her I'm just some bland, flappy hausfrau."

Baby, there ain't nothing good about this goodbye.

Last edited by _pi_; 10-24-2008 at 11:11 AM..
Old 10-24-2008, 12:11 PM
I'm completely with Rhett on this one guys! All these mainstream attempts at reviving the exploitation-genre hollywood style is just really unsatisfying. Don't get me wrong here guys, I'm a huge fan of The House on the Edge of the Park, Last House on the Left and even newer attempts like The Devils Rejects and Funny Games seem to get the formula a little better then this film.

Still this film failed to do anything but seem heavily generic it felt like a big rehash of other films i'd seen previously (or have in my collection for that matter), if your one of those people who thinks its the thought that counts when it comes to modern horror then you might enjoy this. Having a massive collection of Exploitation films and about 15 years of horror film exp, I gotta side with Rhett this is one "Dull Boy".

Althought its not as bad as The Relic from the 90's...so thats gotta count for something right? eh eh?
Old 10-24-2008, 12:54 PM
Peace, bitch
Hey! The Relic was awesome! Penelope Ann Miller as an evolutionary biologist; Linda Hunt chewing the scenery; beheadings and dripping corridors; plus a great great score by John Debney!
"Compared to her I'm just some bland, flappy hausfrau."

Baby, there ain't nothing good about this goodbye.
Old 10-24-2008, 11:43 PM
The Strangers is very well-made and effective at what it does, but it is kind of pointless. It's like something made strictly to show off the skills of the filmmakers. Watching something like that, part of me is impressed and involved in it, and another part is very much aware that it's been done many times before. I'd give it a B or B-, depending on what (if anything) a repeat viewing did for me.

Originally Posted by Matt89
It happened in 1981 at Keddie Ranch in California.
After I saw The Strangers in the theater, I did a little searching online to see if it was in fact based on a real case, and that's the one that came up as a prime suspect.


Originally Posted by Matt89
It wasn't in theatres for very long either, it had a very short run. You could've missed it if you blinked. Never saw a trailer on TV...
I saw trailers and TV ads for it. I noticed it had a pretty long second run at the local dollar show.

Originally Posted by pi
The Relic was awesome! Penelope Ann Miller as an evolutionary biologist; Linda Hunt chewing the scenery; beheadings and dripping corridors; plus a great great score by John Debney!
It's a good-but-not-great giant critter picture. I think Tremors and The Host are better.
Old 06-29-2009, 05:34 PM
You guys missed the mark on my comment, this film is just plain retarded. Its like he tried to create a faceless killer aka classic Micheal Meyers, and tried to create suspense with all his stalking/shadowing of the main characters, but it fails to lead to anywhere a serious horror fan hasn't been before.

I have a massive amount of Home-Invasion subgenre movies... and although this ones tries to be different it just ends up seeming like a movie that should have been DTV. You can't relate to characters and share in their turmoil, disstress and suspense if you don't see what makes them human. This is where the film faulters, it is so conserned with shwoing us the fact their being hunted/toyed with it doesn't really even attempt to have three dimentional characters.

Don't get me wrong I love grindhouse films and euro-trash and I can apprechiate a good bad-movie, but this is far too much. The killers are pretty much the sum of their mask's, leaving no personality and no interest in seeing them. If he tried to create a feeling of coldness in them it failed horribly...and prolly would have been much better not to use mask's to begin with. IMO: A good unflinching calm/cold looking face with no emotion or expression is far more frightening then any 2 cent mask you can buy at Toys R US.

I'd recommend these over this film; Funny Games, Last House on the Left, House by the Edge of the Park, and the lesser known Canadian effort The Dark Hours.

Last edited by Horror Junkie; 06-29-2009 at 05:40 PM..
Old 06-29-2009, 08:45 PM
Johnny Hallyday forever
I think I agree. I mean, ok, Michael Mayers is evil and no other explanation is needed (he kills his sister in the beginning, what else you need?). The anonimity of the killers here works as a... special effect and nothing more. ILS was taking place in a very particular country in very particular circumstances and that was enough of a statement. Here there's... nothing. A very well directed "nothing", we all agree on that. But nothing else.
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