Why do people commit crimes? What leads to the partnering up of individuals with deviant minds? What causes these people to not only band together in an effort to ignore societal rules governing proper behavior, but to take it one deadly step further? How is it that throughout mankind’s history there have been individuals who ascribe no special significance to the taking of a life other than the demented thrill they receive from the act itself? While the 2008 film “The Strangers” doesn’t answer these specific questions in a scientific way, it does speak to an uncomfortable truth about the old saying “wrong place, wrong time.”
James and Kristen, played by Scott Speedman (Underworld) and Liv Tyler, (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) are an attractive young couple who are supposed to be enjoying a romantic weekend together after they attend a wedding; unfortunately things don’t work out that way for them. The viewer finds out, via flashback scenes, that James has asked Kristen to marry him, a proposal which she has rejected, turning a potential romantic getaway into an awkward and silent outing.
After the couple arrives at James’ father’s summer house, the emotional cold war continues until someone begins to knock on the door, which is jolting to both because it is 4:00 am. Who could it be? The answer, a nameless girl whose face is obscured by shadows, thanks to the light bulb above the patio door being out. She inquires in her monotone voice if Tamara is home. Of course, we as viewers already know, Tamara is not home because Tamara doesn’t live there. Upon receiving the news from James that she has the wrong house, the girl walks away…or so the couple believes.
After the incident with the girl, James goes out to buy Kristen cigarettes, and while he is out shopping, a series of frightening incidents begin to occur which soon give way to outright terror. The girl, who was looking for Tamara has returned, still searching for her. The battery on Kristen’s cell phone is dead, so she plugs it in (only to return a short time later to discover the phone is missing) and while talking on the landline with James, it stops working. Prior to James leaving to buy cigarettes, he built Kristen a fire, which causes a smoke alarm to suddenly go off. Kristen, with the aid of a chair, removes the alarm from the ceiling; and while she is doing so, the alarm falls to the floor. But when she returns from changing her clothes in another room, the alarm has been placed on the chair. Next, things start to transpire, and Kristen’s fear quotient is pushed to the max, thanks to the appearance of two masked individuals. One she discovers at the window wearing what looks like a sack with a face drawn on it, replete with two holes cut out for the eyes; the other, at the entrance to the front door, is a girl wearing a doll mask. As an aside, the two masked individuals are working with another girl who wears a pin-up girl mask, and will be revealed a short time later.
Upon arriving home, James, while not being outright dismissive of Kristen’s concerns, doesn’t exactly take stock in what she’s saying either. After a quick search of the house, James and Kristen look out a window and see the ‘doll face’ girl standing outside. James informs Kristen that she and whomever she is with must want something otherwise they wouldn’t just be hanging around. He goes outside to find the windshield and the windows to his car smashed, and one of the Strangers toys with James further by touching him on the shoulder. When he turns around the person who touched him is gone. Upon going back inside the house, James discovers his cell phone is missing. He tells Kristen they have to leave. They attempt to flee by car, but the Strangers, who seem to have a contingency plan for everything, prevent them from leaving by ramming James’ car from behind with an SUV. The taking of James phone and the destruction of his car are two more ways that the masked individuals have cut off ties to the outside world and possible ways for the couple to escape. Who are the masked strangers? Why are they acting that way toward the couple? Will James and Kristen escape to safety? I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to see the film.
Trivia buffs take note: While watching the film you’ll notice that every shot has some sort of movement to it; that’s because the entire movie was shot with the use of both steady cams and hand held cameras. The movie, which was originally going to be titled “The Faces,” was shot in chronological order. During filming of “The Strangers,” which according to the director is based in small part on a true incident from his childhood, Liv Tyler suffered from tonsillitis.
The movie more than made its money back on its estimated ten million dollar budget by grossing close to fifty-three million dollars. As opposed to relying on blood and gore, first time writer and director Bryan Bertino opts for scares to be garnered from the use of shadows, well timed creepy sounds that are amplified to their full effect, jump scares, and a tension that will take hold of a viewer until the end. Dialogue is kept to a minimum and music is used sparingly. For those of you who are fans of well executed horror films, take the less than ninety minutes required to watch the movie. In this blogger’s opinion, it will be time well spent.