Schlocktoberfest #16: The Strangers
“Why are you doing this to us?”
“Because you were home.”
Actually, after watching it, I can tell they were torturing this couple because Liv Tyler is really fucking annoying when she gets scared. Sure she’s hot, but bang on her door and peep in a window with a creepy mask on and she falls to pieces, gibbering like an idiot and drooling snot everywhere. And while I may not kick her out of bed for eating crackers, I draw the line at snot.
The movie starts out pretty good, but falls apart by the end. For first-time director Bryan Bertino it’s a strong effort, especially since he was a grip who sold the concept and then had to read Directing for Dummies during filming. At least according to interviews. He makes liberal use of the bobbing shakycam that is so popular and overused lately, and it’s just a little too obvious. Used properly, and you get a home movie feel, a documentary or newsreel feel that makes it feel real; when every shot bobs up and down a little, you want to smack somebody and hand them a steadycam.
We meet a couple as they arrive at an empty house in a secluded neighborhood; we slowly realize that it is a romantic tryst gone sour. James (Scott Speedwell, “Felicity”) has proposed to Kristen (Liv Tyler) but she was not ready. He had planned a night at this secluded family home, and then a road trip, but her answer has left them both sad and emotionally vulnerable. We get drawn in to their story, and soon they are about to have some make-up sex when something bangs on the front door. When they open the door, they find a disoriented young woman there. She asks if Tamara is home… but something is wrong. Her voice is slurred and childlike. And we never see her face.
After she leaves, James goes to get Kristen some cigarettes, and the terror begins. Another bang on the door; no one’s there. Then a masked figure shows up in the window, wearing a doll’s face. Thus begins a concentrated campaign of terror. Unfortunately Liv Tyler sort of freaks out immediately, and when James comes back he falls into that horror formula of disbelief and even anger at your partner becoming unhinged. He soon believes her, when they find their cell phones in the fireplace.
The tormentors are quite creepy, well-dressed but for their masks; a burlap sack with eye holes, a doll face, a spit-curled mask reminiscent of Betty Boop. Unfortunately, the campaign of terror is pretty contrived and mostly suffers from Dumb Victim Syndrome. Now, you have to expect people to panic and behave irrationally in a horror movie; they are having the shit scared out of them. But sometimes you have to question their actions, like when they escape in a car, and it gets bumped by a truck, and they decide to run for it instead. I dunno, I’ve never felt compelled to avoid a traffic accident by jumping out where the truck can run me over.
The actors to behave unnaturally slowly to try to amp up the creep factor, but the marionette strings show a bit too clearly for it to be effective. It tries a bit too hard, and the ending is terribly anticlimactic, and not quite as terrifying as you’d expect. Go see Funny Games instead. Either version, though I preferred the original German one. If that ending infuriates you, let me know what you think of this one. Funny Games seems tailored to fuck with people who’d really enjoy The Strangers, and it was gutwrenching to watch, while this has a few chills but in the end, you think they sort of deserve it for being so stupid.