- Liv Tyler as Kristen McKay
- Scott Speedman as James Hoyt
- Gemma Ward as Dollface
Low on gore yet full of creeping suspense and terror, The Strangers is unnerving and genuinely terrifying psychological horror that will leave you sleepless.
A young couple, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt are staying at remote summer-house for a getaway before heading on a road trip. James proposes to Kristen, but she refuses and doesn’t want to rush things. With a wedge between them, they try to salvage a relationship which is already on shaky ground. Their attempts to rekindle their relationship are however put on hold by a knock at the door. Answering, a young girl whose face is obscured by a broken light, asks if Tamara is there. The couple send her away after telling her that no one of that name lives there. Everything seems fine, until another knock at the door which then escalates into torment from the girl, who is wearing a china doll mask along with two other masked assailants for back up. The trio begins to systematically terrorise Kristen and James with loud banging, violence and methodical ways of emotional torture as they trap them inside the house. Kristen and James are soon caught in a fight to survive the night as the assailants step up their campaign of terror by cutting off all contact or chance of escape. The terrified couple is forced beyond what they thought they were capable of in order to live through this twisted game orchestrated by the intruders for what seems to be their own sick enjoyment.
Bryan Bertino skillfully creates an atmosphere of dread without resorting to showy gore and carnage. Yes there is violence, but where the true scares of The Strangers lies is in the slow-burning build up that turns extremely frightening as events unfold. There may be nothing original or groundbreaking in The Strangers, but it isn’t trying to be something else and that’s why it is very effective. It understands the creeping power of excruciating silences interrupted by jump scares and the power of burnt orange lighting which sets the mood and harks back to the 70’s. The lighting in particular gives the movie extra scares because of the fact that at any moment one of the intruders may just spring from the dimly lit corner of the house to menace Kristen and James. This film exploits the fear of intrusion of where we consider to be safe and does a very good job at winding up suspense as Kristen and James have to evade capture if they have any chance of survival. And yes some people may say that the movie is unrealistic and at times you have to suspend your belief, but you have to admit that there is a plausibility to it that is hard to shake. I admired the way that the pace occasionally comes up for air and lets us sympathise with the two main characters(who are thankfully not two screaming teenagers but adults and well-played ones too) before plunging them, as well as us, into a living nightmare. A minimalist score keeps the piece laced with an unpredictable nature, that rises when the terror hits and then nestles into suspense.
Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are both well cast as the victims in the twisted taunting game set up by the eponymous strangers. Both of them convincingly convey fear, uncertainty and desperation as they fight to survive ensuing horror. Tyler in particular rivets the attention with her expressive blue eyes and the way she exudes terrified vulnerability is really something. The three strangers sort of blend into together in their terrifying way, Gemma Ward is the only one who speaks and makes the most of the creepy lines she has to deliver.
So what The Strangers lacks in originality it more than makes up for in terrifying horror and effective performances.