Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Strangers (Bertino, 2008)

I think there's a chance that people who don't normally go see horror films might find this film scary all the way through. Anyone who has seen more than, oh, I don't know, three decent horror films, won't.

The premise is simple - a couple in an isolated home are terrorized by three masked individuals. Hardly original, but plenty of room for a filmmaker to make their own mark. Alas, these film makers did not. The film starts with a 'based on real events' spiel and starts at the end - the discovery of a scene of horrific crime. So far, so 70s.

Then, we get to meet the poor, unfortunate couple who will end up the victims of that crime. Now, I confess I can't stand Liv Tyler in the slightest, but her character was not endearing in the slightest to me. Scott Speedman fares slightly better, but after 15 minutes of exposition and making us 'care' (hmm, not quite) for our protagonists, I was seriously itching for something to actually happen.

And when it finally did, the tension did rise. There are some good jumps and a decent atmosphere of dread...but no pay off. The director relies so heavily on sound and music to create any semblance of fear that you wonder if anything will actually happen at all. After several SCARY MUSIC CUES, the following five million SCARY MUSIC CUES become no more than irritatingly predictable. It doesn't help either when what should've been a very creepy early moment was rendered useless by the fact that it's the damn poster for the film.

Even with the film's naturally brief running time, it feels laboured. What the film promises to be a brutal climax falls short - if you're going to set up brutal slasher-movie stabbing, deliver it, please. It's nice that the three strangers remained mostly faceless even having removed their masks, but to me it continued to dehumanise very human monsters. And the final scene? Cheaper than cheap, and not scary.

Personally, I didn't like the direction. The annoying attempts at simulated hand-held shots felt forced. If Bertino wanted his film to feel real, he should've filmed the whole damn thing that way and with a handheld camera, not mix it up with polished shooting and cutting.

Scary masks were done far more effectively by El Orfanto and hell, Batman Begins. Supposedly, a sequel to the film is in the works, with the hope of launching a Saw-like franchise. Um, no thank you. The Strangers lacks the vaguely interesting characters and actual scares needed to sustain one, 85-minute film, never mind a franchise.

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