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Friday, January 30, 2009

Blind Picks from Netflix: The Strangers (2008)

First time director Bryan Bertino's The Strangers may not offer anything new to the home-invasion-torture-horror subgenre, but it certainly builds up enough suspense and atmosphere to keep your pulse high for most of its lean 85 minutes. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a young couple staying in a nice and conveniently out of the way summer house. After coming home from a wedding they kick off their shoes, light a fire and slip into a night of utter terror as they are stalked by a trio of masked sociopaths. The Strangers is not unlike Pekinpah's Straw Dogs or Michael Haneke's Funny Games in that it takes its time establishing its characters and setting and introduces the invaders slowly, waiting until the forty minute mark to spill any real blood. This is to its advantage, as the best scares come from small things--a skipping record, a smoky fire, a knock on the door that just might be the wind, etc. The director doesn't really give us characters we can root for, as they make dumb choices and don't seem all the sympathetic. I'm pro-gun control, but this movie had me yelling at the screen "WHY don't you guys have more GUNS!" Then again, when I picture how I would have handled the situation (and sitting alone in my dark apartment you better believe I'm mulling it over) I can't say I would have behaved with any more grace or competence. Bertino wisely avoids showing us the killers, as that big reveal can so often be a let down in suspense films like The Strangers. Rather, he dresses them in baby doll masks and a flour sack, respectively, displaying gaping black holes where eyes should be and thusly scaring the crap out of me. Bertino has stated that the "real event" the film is based on is the Manson Family Murders. For me, the comparison is very loose at best, the biggest similarity only occurring in the last ten minutes (don't worry, no pregnant ladies get stabbed in the gut).


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