Good terror horror that causes you to tense up and not let go is hard to find, especially in the mainstream, but The Strangers is just that.
James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) went to the Hoyt summerhouse after a wedding. It was supposed to be a special night but things had not gone as planned. Exhausted and drunk, the two wanted nothing more than for the night to end. Then a strange girl knocks at the door looking for someone. From that moment on, Kristen’s and James’ lives are in danger as they are threatened first subtly then with increasing intensity.
One of the most terrifying elements of this story is the randomness of the violence. There is nothing personal about the attack; the couple is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Writer/director Bryan Bertino’s creates a successful throwback to horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, which centred on the build-up and proved meaningless at every turn. His method of telling the story is very effective and affecting. Once introduced, the Strangers (Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis) are always lurking but not acting so the audience never knows if and when something is going to happen.
There are several long takes as opposed to a lot of short cuts. The masks add to the overall effect of fear because you cannot see the intruders’ facial expressions or emotions nor are their identities ever revealed. Furthermore, the time establishing and connecting with Speedman’s and Tyler’s characters is well spent as you feel for them and with them in their helpless situation. Finally, the suddenness of the ending only punctuates the senselessness of the entire incident.
The DVD includes three deleted scenes that contribute to the character development of Kristin and James, but only the second would have really added to the story. “The Elements of Terror” featurette separates the scary components of the film into sound, look, feel, etc. Although it’s interesting, it also demystifies the fear a bit.