(May contain spoilers) Following a friend’s wedding reception, Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) return to the latter’s family vacation home. This was also supposed to be their big night as James proposes to Kristen. But she rejects him, saying that she isn’t “ready.” Still aching, from rejection and a collapsed engagement, he calls his friend to come and get him. Then the night takes an even worse turn. At 4 a.m., there is a knock at the door. For some reason, even though they are in a remote location and it’s 4 a.m., they open the door and find a willowy blonde (Gemma Ward) standing in the shadows. She asks, “Is Tamara here?” Confused, they reply that she must be mistaken. The woman leaves. Or does she?
If you’ve seen the trailer for “The Strangers,” you know that she comes back, this time wearing a Dollface mask and bringing with her several equally psychotic friends – one who wears a sack on his head and seems to have chronic asthma (Kip Weeks) and another woman, wearing a Pin-Up Girl mask (Laura Margolis). “The Strangers” was written and directed by first-timer Bryan Bertino, who didn’t exactly base this on a “true story,” as the publicity machine suggests. Instead, it came from his “childhood memory” of someone who went through his town, knocking on doors, and when no one was home he or she would break in. Can you say, exaggerated claim?
“The Strangers” does have that Manson family coming for a visit feel about it, and the first 20 minutes or so are frightening. But, as is usually the case, the characters start doing stupid things, and it all goes downhill from there. I’ve watched enough of these types of films to know that they are only useful as combat training exercises. So here’s what “The Strangers” taught me: Don’t open the door at 4 a.m. Use your phone to call the police not your boyfriend who’s out getting you cigarettes. Keep a pair of shoes handy for running emergencies. When running in the woods, make sure you glance down every once in awhile, otherwise you will fall like every other idiot being chased in a horror film.
And, no, serial killers NEVER fall even when wearing a mask or bag on their heads. Never put down your weapon – ever. If you do, and you’re looking for another weapon, a knife used for peeling apples – OK for cleaning your nails, not great for defense. Stick together; it’s easier to fight back. If a car is available, leave the location immediately. Smashed out windows will NOT prevent a car from running effectively. If you go into a barn, make sure you take advantage of the myriad sharp implements hanging on the wall. If instead you’d prefer to use an old radio for communication, don’t whisper “Help me” and forget to tell them of you’re your location. All of these are sensible, yes? Which means that your horror film victims will do none of these things, and you will feel like bashing out your own brains for subjecting yourself to more of the same.
Some people have actually complained that the ending of “The Strangers” is “depressing,” and not very “tidy.” They also are infuriated by the perps lack of motivation. Hmmm. To them I would suggest watching truTV – any of the shows will do from “Forensic Files” to “Murder by the Book.” A lot of people commit crimes for no other reason than they are insane, and people, yes, innocent ones too, do die. Those people who can’t accept these facts should probably avoid watching “Psycho” or “The Mist.”
Should you waste your time on “The Strangers”? Answer this question to find out. Are you a sensible person? If you said, “yes,” then sit this one out. Maybe for his next script, and there will be another one for Bertino, believe me, maybe he’ll let his protagonists have a modicum – that’s all I’m asking – of sense.
Bryan Bertino (director) / Bryan Bertino (screenplay)
CAST: Scott Speedman … James Hoyt
Liv Tyler … Kristen McKay
Gemma Ward … Dollface
Kip Weeks … The Man in the Mask
Laura Margolis … Pin-Up Girl
Glenn Howerton … Mike