Is there anything better than revisiting a horror film that scared the living hell out of you when you first saw it? Well yes, when it scares the hell out of you the second time around. Go figure, a horror movie that is actually scary. I was beginning to think that a scary horror film was a thing of the past. Lately moviegoers have been bombarded with safe, non-violent teenybopper movies that any self-respecting horror aficionado wouldn’t be caught dead screening. I don’t think I need to give you the run-down, we all know which movies those would be.
That is why I am proud to endorse “The Strangers” for anyone who is looking for a good old-fashioned scare. The cast is great and the story is even better, because it is so damn believable. I like to call these types of movies the “check the closet” horror films, because you are likely to make sure you locked up real tight when you finish with this one.
The story is very simple yet very effective. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a couple staying at a remote vacation home after a friends wedding. It looks like there’s trouble in paradise, as it is obvious the couple is having some unstable times. Almost the entire first half of the film is a great character driven drama that sets it up so we actually care what happens to the couple. Unlike other films that just give us shallow, stupid teens that are about to be led to the slaughter. “The Strangers” sets up the characters to be very realistic, and smarter than your average horror film cannon fodder.
Things take a turn for the worse when a trio of masked assailants descends upon the isolated couple. I want to tread lightly on the synopsis, due to the fact that the unknown factor is what makes this film so scary. At first it seems the group is out for fun, just to scare them, but it quickly becomes apparent that they are after something else entirely. I was reminded heavily of the original “Halloween” when things start to get serious. The stalkers ability to always be there, and yet always be just out of sight creates a level of suspense and terror that is difficult to come by. When I first saw “The Strangers” in the theater, I wasn’t sure if I was in a movie theater or an amusement park.
The people-screaming index was at a full blown 10.
I have been to a lot of horror movies in my day, but I can’t recall a more audibly frightened crowd. In other words it is the perfect date movie (sorry, honey). A girl seated next to me was complaining about the film, but at the same time she was clutching her boyfriend as if he was going to float off like a balloon. If that isn’t date material, I guess I don’t know what is!
After this stunning debut, first time writer/director Bryan Bertino appears to have all the tools to be a force in the horror genre. He knows just where and when to tighten the screws and when to pull back. All in all the film is fairly non-violent, the scares come from the sense of danger and the suspense of knowing a little more information than the protagonists. Tyler and Speedman display a terrific chemistry together, and their performances push the film from average to exceptional.
Although the film borrows heavily from some other films, it definitely stands alone as its own separate entity. It is nice to see an original horror movie that isn’t a remake, with an ending that is more than believable. This is an example of the “less is more” approach to horror films that seems to be lacking in the world of modern horror. If you enjoy this movie, be sure to check out the 2006 French film “Them (Ils)”, and be prepared to check the closets before you go to sleep.