It was supposed to be a night of celebration for Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman). But after returning to the isolated Hoyt home in the woods, things start to go ominously bump in the night. The bumps soon take shape as three masked strangers who are intent on scaring the couple to death.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Inspired by real events, The Strangers is a strange horror thriller in that it sets up expectations about the central relationship between Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) which is left in a curious limbo. We aren't shown why she is crying in the car returning from a function to the house, and why they appear to be splitting up. The engagement ring which James gives her only adds to the mystery. This uncertainty, which at first works to hold our attention and build tension, only works for a limited time, after which it becomes a distraction for the rest of the film.
Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman deliver everything required of them as a seriously threatened young couple caught in a night of terror from often unseen, unknown attackers. Tyler's role is especially demanding as she is in a permanent state of terror. She is able to make her fear palpable and involves us in her plight. Speedman judges a fine line between male bravery and natural fear. The strangers seem to have no motive for their crime and it suggested they will strike again (oh no, not a sequel; it couldn't sustain).
The film's most potent claim to success is its lengthy and cleverly edited stretches of spookiness, which it tends to extend to almost breaking point, keeping us in heightened suspense. Excellent technically, the film nevertheless is hoist by its own petard as it mis-judges a couple of elements at the very end - including the closing shot.
Review by Louise Keller:
Less is more is writer director Bryan Bertino's philosophy in this edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller in which Liv Tyler's expressive face and an outstanding music and sound score go a long way to build up a bank of terror. The entire film takes place over one terrifying evening when strangers wearing masks perpetuate fear to an unsuspecting couple in an isolated location. First, we hear a distress call. Then there is evidence of the evening's events, before Bertino winds back the clock so we are able to experience the horror first hand and become swallowed up by a crescendo of fear.
Bertino's skill is that he gives us enough information to tantalise, but we are always left wanting more. There is plenty we would like to know about the relationship between Tyler's Kristen and Scott Speedman's James for which we are only given hints, including a boxed ring, scattered rose petals, candles and music. The cumulative effect of unexpected knocks at the door, creaking floors, shadows, noises and strange happenings is a heart-pounding experience. Apart from one serious continuity error involving Tyler's clothes, the tension builds and builds, until we feel as though we are trapped in the claustrophobia of fear itself.
In his debut feature, Bertino concentrates our focus on the fear of the unknown and most of the reactions are left to Tyler, whose Kristen is both fragile and emotionally vulnerable. Speedman manages to give us a good sense of James' character, and although all the details of Kristen and James' relationship remains sketchy, with the help of our imagination, we quickly become involved in the terror of the night. We are left to wonder, however, why international superstar model Gemma Ward is cast to play the thankless role of Dollface. And why Bertino resorts to the cliché of the film's final shot, which somewhat cheapens the whole experience.
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STRANGERS, THE (MA)
CAST: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Glenn Howerton
PRODUCER: Doug Davison, Nathan Kahane, Roy Lee
DIRECTOR: Bryan Bertino
SCRIPT: Bryan Bertino
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Sova
EDITOR: Kevin Greutert
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John D. Kretschmer
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 14, 2008