Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Strangers (2008)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I went to see The Strangers last night at the cinema. To put it quite simply, it's that new horror movie starring Liv Tyler. Since I'm a huge horror fan, and I kind of have a crush on Liv Tyler, I couldn't pass it up. It was opening day, but even so, I was surprised at how many people showed up for the Friday night last showing (11pm - tame). I'm used to seeing movies where not more than a handful of people show up. Then again, the second-run theatre that I liked to go to shut down, unfortunately. But at this show, shortly into the movie, there wasn't an empty seat within my view!

Lots of young types, most likely high school students, out for a weekend thrill. I was impressed to see a group of older guys among the crowd though. Older as in father types, the rebel kind you might see at a rock concert. Anyhow, it was crowded, and I prefer more room to breathe, but it wasn't too bad.

The movie itself was very good. Not one of the best horror movies I've ever seen, but in this day of dime-a-dozen scare flicks, I'd say it was among the better ones. There was a good bit of emotional tension between the two leads even before The Strangers showed up to wreak havoc. In fact, the movie dealt with a situation I haven't really seen a lot, especially not in horror films - a marriage proposal gone sour. Watching the previews, I thought the lead couple was gonna be all lovey-dovey, but there was this depressing air that hung over them instead. Kind of an appropriate lead-in to the horror that followed. Sort of like, "this is the worst night of my life" even before they discover that they're being hunted by homicidal psychopaths - like some kind of pathetic fallacy where god sends angels of death (in a purely symbolic sense) to truly make this night the absolute worst possible it could ever be. I thought it was a refreshing angle.

The movie does a really good job of slowly building up the tension, and a lot of that seems to have to do with the killers' strategy of slowly building up the tension in their victims, starting by sending a girl to knock on the door, pretending like she had the wrong house - but with the added creepiness of the porch light not working; followed by subsequent pounding on the door, and then sneaking into the house unnoticed to do small things like get rid of phones and stuff, a face in the window here or there, breaking open the front door but not coming in, just a gradual increase in intimidation to completely freak out the innocent victims. And they wait until dawn breaks to do their worst in the clear light of day.

I thought the killers were portrayed very well. They weren't really explained or over-analyzed, which is something that I think some (especially modern) horror movies make the mistake of doing (Black Christmas remake, I'm looking at you). Michael Myers (the character, not the actor) in Halloween wasn't scary because he had this abusive history or whatever, he was scary because he was the freaking bogeyman, and he killed dispassionately just for the sake of killing. Anyway, I liked how you never got to see the killers' faces. They wore masks throughout the night, but one detail that I really liked was how they took their masks off just before their final act of violence - but we still didn't get to see their faces, though it wasn't done in an overly obvious fashion. It's like, you barely get to see a face here or there, but you never got a straight look. Just something about that added an extra dimension of creepiness. The fact that they wanted to reveal their faces to their victims at the very end, but that we still end up leaving the theatre without seeing them.

And then that near-final scene, with the two bike-boys. Gives just the slightest bit of humanity to the killers, while at the same time, it sort of accentuates how brutally inhumane they are. Excellent.

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