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The Strangers — Must-See Suspense

By Staff | Jun 20, 2008

Every so often a film sneaks into the release schedule that instantly becomes a “must see.”  Inexplicitly, those exiting “The Strangers” had mixed comments, but one called it “a horror classic” and another praised its “suspense.” Later, I overheard a viewer telling a friend, “Now, I’ve got to see Psycho.” Others found its elementary simplified premise disappointing, lacking insight into the home invaders motives.

No matter, suffice to conclude, this one’s a certified jump in your rocking seat, hold your breath, pee your pants thriller in the tradition to “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” “Saw” and “Blair Witch Project.” Incredibly, this film opens with an apparent ardent spoiler — a crafty display of blood, gore and red scribbles with screen narration (in writing) stating, no one will ever know the extent of the barbaric cruelties that occurred in the suburban summer house, just a few hundred feet from a wooded area.

Starting on a would-be romantic night of roses and bliss, Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) have settled down for the night in a quiet, remote summerhouse following a friend’s marriage. Unfortunately, there’s no celebration. James popped the question earlier to Kristen; she said she was not ready. Now, they have an awkward evening of social never- never-land. James calls a friend to pick him up and tells Kristen their road trip is now inappropriate.

With a blazing fireplace, James readily agrees to go purchase cigarettes for his would be fiancÎ. Before he departs, a loud pounding at the front door reveals a woman searching for someone who does not live there.

Once James flees the house, the pounding starts again. Kristin sees a doll masked face in the window. She calls Jimmy and begs him to hurry back. Then the line goes dead.

First time writer/director Bryan Bertino quickly turns Tyler into the 21st century scream queen, a role that Jamie Lee Curtis held once she starred in John Carpenter’s “Halloween.”  Avoiding the splatter and torture mainstay of more recent horror treks, Bertino puts knives and weapons in the hands of the estranged couple and the three doll and/or pig faced (remember the butcher in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre?”) intruders.

Relying upon deep pounding blasts of sound, spooky fuzzy focus camera shots, wandering, always shifting cameras and the isolated setting, “The Strangers” mortifies you from the first innocent, “Is Tamara there?” voice at the door. Add the enhanced sound system and crystal clear photography and you’ll sleep with doors locked, the lights on and your pit bull by the door.

Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com