The Strangers

Movie Information

The Story: Three masked maniacs terrorize a couple in a lonely house with predictable results and an alarming lack of imagination. The Lowdown: A couple of B-list stars run around doing stupid things in this unpleasant, humorless attempt at milking our fears of home-invasion horrors.
Genre: Sadistic Thriller
Director: Bryan Bertino
Starring: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis
Rated: R

I admit I didn’t have all that bad of a time watching The Strangers, but I put that down almost entirely to watching the film with an audience made up of teenagers who screamed at every shock effect, while offering occasional insightful remarks. For a time, I thought the young lady directly in front of me had only a three-word vocabulary: “Oh, my God!” The occasional embellishment of a descriptive term in front of “God,” proved at least a passing familiarity with one other word. However, she later impressed me with a colorful array of invective hurled at the intellect of Liv Tyler’s character, Kristen McKay. This started with, “What a dumb ass,” but quickly—and not without reason—evolved into ever more elaborate and vulgar assessments of Ms. McKay’s intellectual prowess. The entertainment value of this was considerably in excess of anything offered on the screen.

If you’ve seen the annoying trailer for writer-director Bryan Bertino’s singularly pointless debut feature, you’ve seen all the film has to offer—minus 88 minutes of tedious sadism. There’s an appallingly acted framing setup involving two God-peddling kids (identified in the credits as Mormons, but presented as generic hot gospelers in the film) who come upon the not-all-that-spectacularly-grizzly aftermath of the mayhem that makes up the body of the film. The film then quickly transitions to a flashback of the mayhem in question, or more precisely, the setup for the mayhem in question. Bertino makes the mistake of believing that anyone likely to shell out good money for this movie actually cares about the backstory of its meat-on-the-hoof leads, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman, Underworld: Evolution). There might have been some justification for this if the characters had been even slightly interesting, but they’re not.

Eventually, Bertino gets the lead couple to the Hoyt family summer residence—a singularly ugly ranch house where the decor is frozen in time in a style that might charitably be called “Nixon awful,” right down to the endless bric-a-brac and shag carpet. Once there, our leads find that strange things are happening. From here on out, three masked psychos terrorize them while the duo engage in increasingly stupid behavior to assure maximum psycho success. That’s all there is; there ain’t no more.

The psychos are played by Gemma Ward (apparently a model), Kip Weeks (apparently an actor) and Laura Margolis (apparently a TV actress). But since the two women wear masks and Mr. Weeks sports an inside-out potato sack with eye and mouth holes, large chunks of the film might well have been played by anyone who happened to be handy on any given day. Characterization is nonexistent, except that Weeks sounds like he could use a Primatene inhaler. (Whether or not this defames asthmatics is a question that perhaps bears investigation.)

All of this leads to a magnificently underwhelming climax that I’m honor bound not to reveal. Yes, there are a few effective “boo!” moments of the Shock Effects 101 variety, and one (count it) genuinely creepy bit that was shown in the trailer (something that had no discernible downside to its Pavlovian impact on the audience). But there’s nothing here—apart from the glumly sadistic tone of it all—that you haven’t seen before and haven’t seen done better. Of course, it’s all supposedly based on a real event—a statement sure to find ready acceptance with proud owners of the Brooklyn Bridge and parcels of Florida swampland. Bottom line: This week’s Sex and the City movie is a lot scarier. Rated R for violence/terror and language.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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3 thoughts on “The Strangers

  1. Kendel Matthews

    I agree with this blog 100%. I especially like the part in the movie where Kristen calls James instead of the police! Also, I’m not sure if it’s just me, but when they were in the car about to back up and leave, couldn’t they have just run over mr. potato sack? They could have easily backed up with enough time to drive away, seeing as the pickup truck that hit them was a good distance away. Last but not least Mike, *sigh* if something comes crashing through your windshield, PUT THE CAR IN DRIVE AND GET THE F*** OUT OF THERE! You don’t get out of the car and say, “What the hell?”

    To put things simply, I believe they had chances to get away, they just didn’t take them. I wasn’t scared in the least, wait i take that back. At the very end, where the boy, who i thought was a christian, touches kristen and she screams, I did drop my jaw. Overall a bad movie and i WAS going to change my mind and watch Sex and the City, but my friends said it was for girls =[.

  2. Steven

    I thought this film had a few enjoyable scenes but that’s it. It’s so predictable. It seemed like the “strangers” had magic powers. Poking someone in the back and disappearing in a split second?

  3. Been there, I promised myself I would never got to see another horror movie gain in the theater. People will yell and scream at the most stupid stuff ever, ends up ruining the movie.

    I got the pleasure watching this movie at home by myself on my big projector screen. Although it was just another demented movie, I still liked it. It kept me on the edge of my chair at times.

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