With the amount of films that are produced and released every year, every so often a number of great films will unfortunately slip beneath the “mainstream” radar. I think The Strangers was one of these films, there was no hype, little publicity and no glowing reviews or “indie” awards which generally guarantee a mass of underground love. But NO! Not here. So I gleefully went along with no expectations or prior knowledge of the films premise. None of my friends had seen it and the handful of reviews I’d skimmed had been vaguely nonchalant.
So the film starts very quietly, we hear an ominous voice over reading some FACTUAL statistics about violent crimes in America, then the dreaded line “based on true events“.. Regardless of this being truthful or not, it still adds to the tension, so good call guys. It cuts to an autumn morning, where two boys find a house that has been forcibly entered, they see splatters of blood on walls and a blood soaked knife; over the visuals we hear a police call, made by a traumatized female.
Cut to a couple (Kirsten and James) driving late at night, arriving at an isolated summer house. There is tension between them and we learn that Kristen had rejected James’ marriage proposal earlier in the evening. Time passes and as they are baring all to each other, get interrupted by a slow, loud knock on the door. It’s a girl asking for someone who doesn’t live there, (or actually just finding out who is home). James then goes out to buy Kirsten some cigarettes, despite being 4am, in the middle of nowhere, with creepy girl loitering in the bushes.
As soon as he leaves we learn the couple are being watched by 3 masked strangers, the tension builds by increments, most of it conveyed through the audio or the lack of, which is perfectly eerie. The sound of the film constantly jars from Joanna Newsom’s beautiful ‘The Sprout and The Bean‘, an ever crackling record player, the sound of muffled breathing and trees quietly moving in a windless night to pure silence.
Every so often it got too tense and I found myself looking around the theater, hoping that everyone else was gripping whatever they could grab with white knuckled hands, sweating profusely into their seat, and thankfully, they were. Unfortunately there are points where you’re shouting at the screen – “Don’t leave her, what are you doing!? Haven’t you ever seen a horror film?! No good can come of this!” Which pisses me off, because come on, if this was based on real events there’s no way you’d do anything on your own, except maybe soil yourself. But apart from these minor cliché ‘horror’ moments, The Strangers is a griping, tense picture, of barbaric, sinister and terrifying violence.
It pushes past the exciting, adrenaline rush of jumpy modern horror films (Scream, Saw etc) and instead focuses on the feeling of complete isolation, despair and impending brutal death. Leaving you feeling so exhausted that you just want them to die already, to get past this massively built hump of inevitable doom. It’s disturbing and incredibly eerie, it will stay with you long after you’ve seen it, and will be impossible to decide if its terrifying in a good way, or, if it’s actually possible, too scary. It’s uncomfortable and relentless but beautifully made and genuinely creepy. I can’t think of a scarier film since I saw Deliverance when I was 14, weeks before a trip to America.