When Bad Times Get Worse — The Strangers

January 11, 2009

d. Bryan Bertino

A very effective thriller/horror movie in the vein of Straw Dogs about a couple terrorized by three masked individuals in an isolated summer home that starts really strong, but a number of missteps on the way and the film goes off the rails that by the conclusion I was left feeling empty and sour.

The One On The Right Is The Cutest

The One On The Right Is The Cutest

Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play the couple, having returned to a summer home after Liv has rejected Scott’s proposal. Still somewhat emotionally jumbled, the couple are interrupted from reconnecting by a knock on the door. At the door is a strange woman who asks for Tamara. Clearly she has the wrong house, but she warns, “I’ll see you later.”

And after Scott leaves to pick up some cigarettes for Liv, the assault begins. At first its bangs on the door, but they escalate and scare the shit out of Liv. Of course there are plausible reasons for why phones don’t work (cell battery has died; cordless works but the line is cut) and as the attack intensifies so did my frustration, mostly born out of the effective tension and terror being presented.

The tension is created by means that feel natural as to how one would react in such a situation. For the most part, characters respond and act in ways that make sense. First of all, Liv Tyler gives an excellent and credible performance as the female half of the terrorized couple; and while Scott Speedman does well in his role, his character makes some supremely bad choices that irritated me and bumped me out of the narrative a couple of times. His main mistake, well after the assault begins, is to decide to leave Liv alone at the house, which is indefensible, and take the only gun with him. Argh!

The three terrorizers have a great creepy look, but their ultimate motivation for their assault is weak. The final scenes are such a downer and maybe would have worked better if I was given an earlier glimpse of hope of survival, and the film ends on an unfortunate “sting” that is too cliche. So while I appreciate the tense scenes that make up the bulk of this film, there still exists a level of horror cliches that get in the way.

Overall the direction is effective despite flaws in the script that taint the terror with cliche. The performances are also, for the most part, very good — especially Liv Tyler.

**1/2 stars.

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