Lots of you have been waiting for me to weigh in on The Strangers, so here goes (thanks for the huge implied compliment, btdubb). I'd been anxious to see it for months and months, and I caught a gramma-time screening the day it opened- so it's a bit surprising, even to me, that it's taken me so long to write about it. What can I say- I move in mysterious ways. I'm also fresh and exciting, more than a woman, always a woman, and as we all know, I'm like the wind.
But enough about me- how 'bouts them strangers, eh? In the end, I kind of had a love-hate relationship with it. It was certainly scary enough, at times, to have the audience (jam-packed with younguns) screaming and yelling- in a good way. Why my gramma-time screening was chock full of whipper snappers, I have no idea. What's next, these kids taking over my favorite shuffleboard hot spot? Or my Lawrence Welk time being inundated with "rock and roll"? I'm almost afraid to leave the house. And why is it so cold in here? Where's my shrug?
But, again, enough about me. What do YOU think about me? HA HA HA.
James and Kristen (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) head back to James's family's vacation home after attending a friend's wedding. It's about 4am, they're exhausted, and things between them seem a bit tense. Over the course of roughly the first 40 minutes of the film, we learn why things aren't entirely hunky dory in lovey-dovey land: it seems that James proposed and Kristen said she wasn't ready for marriage. For some reason, this totally puts a damper on the romantic evening James had planned. Also putting the damper on said romantic evening is the appearance of...dun dun dunnnn...the strangers.
It all begins when a junkie-type blonde girl knocks on the door, asking if...uh, so-and-so is home. So-and-so doesn't live there, see, and James and Kristen are a little weirded out. I totally know how they feel: once upon a time, someone pounded on my window at about one in the morning. Before I could really do anything, the someone started opening my window. I was awake and on the phone at the time; I hung up, called the cops, and yelled at the someone in question. Someone replied "Is Steve there?" to which I had to reply in the negative- I knew no Steves. Well, that's not entirely true- I had a Columbia House account under the name "Steve Donder" (their mistake, not mine), but somehow I doubt this late-night/early-morning caller knew of my 12 CDs for a penny...and your soul alias. He left, the cops came, and that was that- though I didn't sleep that night.
But enough about me! James decides to head to the store to get Kristen some cigarettes and to clear his head, and this is when The Strangers really amps up. Before long, the blonde girl is back and masked baddies have made their way into the house. James eventually returns, a game of cat and mouse begins, and things progress toward a finale that's both unexpected and completely expected.
The first hour or so of this movie kicked complete ass- particularly the sequences when Kristen was home alone. The first appearance of the bag man caused the audience (myself included) to shriek and cower. Unfortunately, the film simply ran out of steam somewhere along the way. The masks get less and less frightening the more you see them, and it seemed as if writer/director Bryan Bertino was unsure about where to take the story. As such, the conclusion of the film is flat, if, perhaps, the most "real".
That said, Bertino has made an original film that certainly hearkens back to the good ol' horror days of yore. It looks fantastic- the house is bathed in a warm glow that belies the dangers lurking just outside in the dark- and the sound design is top notch. The Strangers doesn't lack for scares, to say the least.
It also doesn't lack for stupid horror movie characters. The interesting relationship setup of the first half hour (and the accompanying character development) is all but abandoned after the strangers arrive, leaving Kristen and James with little else to do beyond crying and grimacing, respectively. I understand the need for characters to get separated in horror movies- people need to get picked off, so to speak, and that's much more easily accomplished if the characters are alone. It's up to the writer, however, to accomplish this in a way that isn't going to feel completely outside the scope of human behavior (writers of films in the Friday the 13th series, however, are immune to this rule. It's Friday the fucking 13th, you know? Anything goes!).
To wit: if I am one of two people trapped in a house by masked kookadooks and my pal, the one with the shotgun, says "I'll be right back", I will say "Fuck that noise, I am coming with you. Or leave the boomstick with me, your choice." Kristen, however, says "Alright, I'll just hold onto this pillow. I'll keep my back to this open door while I'm at it." This, to me, is unbelievably unbelievable, enough to have left me throwing my hands up in the theatre and for my friend to lean over and suggest that Kristen simply send up a flare.
Later, she heads out into the dark to look for James- yes, he left with the shotgun and he hasn't returned. She doesn't find him in the empty barn, but she does find all manner of pointy farm implements- scythes and the such- and yet she grabs not a one to use as a weapon. People, pick up anything to use as a weapon- I don't care if the only thing on hand is a fucking Cabbage Patch Kid. Pick that shit up and wield it. I'm sorry- in a pinch, even Agnes Millie or whomever can do some damage. Kristen doesn't subscribe to my line of reasoning, however, and she remains empty-handed. She also trips and twists her ankle (natch) and crawls across a wide expanse of back yard, thinking, I suppose, that if she can't see the strangers, they can't see her. Stupid Kristen.
All in all, it was pretty intense, beyond scary at times, and not nearly as torture-laden as the ad campaign (and some knee-jerk reviews, as My New Plaid Pants points out) would have you believe. I liked it more than I liked both Ils (Them) and Vacancy; I only wish the latter third of the movie or so lived up to the promise of the first two. The Strangers is a bit like a piece of gum- when you first start chewing, you say to yourself "This gum is the most awesome fucking thing ever!"; then comes the point when it's lost all its flavor and you find yourself wondering why it's still in your mouth.
I'm certainly not writing off Bertino as a horror filmmaker, however, and The Strangers is a damn fine first effort. I think he's one to keep an eye on. I'm far less enthused about the rumors surrounding a sequel, though. This movie is enough on its own.