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THE STRANGERS, 2008
Movie Reviews!

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THE STRANGERS
Movie Review
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman
Review by Wes Berger



SYNOPSIS:

A young couple staying in an isolated vacation home are terrorized by three unknown assailants

REVIEW:

As a die hard, lifelong fan of the horror genre, I went into The Strangers with little or no expectations. Whether it has been the glut of lame, bloodless and mostly PG rated Hollywood remakes of both superior Asian fright flicks and North American classics from the 1970’s and 1980’s or the proliferation of films from the already played out ‘torture porn’ subgenre, recent American horror movies given wide releases have flat out sucked.

Well, The Strangers is a pleasantly unpleasant surprise; an uncompromisingly grim, cruel and spare little sharp-edged gem. The best part of the film is its’ first act. First time writer/director Bryan Bertino wisely devotes the early part of the story to spending time with and building empathy for the

characters while using a terrific sound design and judiciously applied, well chosen musical score to gradually ratchet up a sense of dread and genuine suspense. This creepy and effective set up climaxes in an exceptionally frightening reveal that provoked audible exhalations and even screams from the audience I saw the film with.

The rest of the film is not quite as strong. The middle section drags on for too long with too little variation and the last two thirds have little to no character development. The ending could also be seen as a cliché, although one could also interpret it, charitably, as an extension and deeper revelation of its’ antagonists’ defining sadism.

Still, this is, I would argue, one of the best American horror films of the last several years. While some might accuse it of being derivative and it clearly hearkens back to the 70’s (the original ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and the exploits of the Manson family are obvious influences) its’ bracingly stark minimalism gives the film an aesthetic that feels fresh. The performances are also strong. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are both solid here, but Speedman is the revelation; completely convincing as a decent, average guy way out of his depth.

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Finally, the greatest achievement of “The Strangers’ is that it refuses to let the audience off the hook for watching the sadistic physical and especially psychological terrorism that the intruders enact on their victims. There are no self-conscious winks to the audience, no leavening bits of humour and almost no shots from the antagonists’ point of view. I challenge you to watch this film and cheer for the villains, as one is sometimes tempted to do in movies of this genre. Here, the victims’ pain and suffering are always in the foreground.

I’m not saying that this is the ‘Unforgiven’ of slasher movies but it’s a film where the wounds really hurt, one that never lets you forget that the blood from these wounds comes from real, hurting, terrified people and that, sadly, makes it extraordinary.

3 stars out of 4!

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