*. “Inspired by true events.” Well, if you think about it, what isn’t? Even the Iliad and Odyssey could make such a claim, not to mention every fiction since.
*. The Strangers suggests something more, telling us by way of a pre-credit voiceover that “there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America each year” and that this is one of them. Don’t think about that too hard.
*. As far as I’ve been able to determine, it’s just the usual come-on. In other words, it’s total bullshit. The voice doing the voiceover actually sounds a bit like John Larroquette at the beginning of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, making his similarly bogus declaration in tones just as earnest. Texas Chain Saw Massacre was, perhaps, based on the totally unrelated story of Ed Gein, the same source crime as for Psycho. In this case writer-director Brian Bertino may have been thinking of the Manson murders, or, as he has claimed, some childhood incident, but really it could have been “inspired” by just about anything.
*. Critics also compared The Strangers to the French film Them, which was another movie inspired by true events, only in that case I think there was a bit more of a connection. The bottom line however is that this is just another home invasion thriller and it isn’t based on anything at all aside from the genre formula.
*. It’s not my favourite horror sub-genre. Even when they’re well done I don’t really like any of these movies, and they’re rarely well done. Funny Games was disturbing but at least it tried to do something a little different with the basic concept of the psychos knocking on the door of a happy, well-off family staying in a semi-remote home or cottage. Haneke’s film gave you something to talk about after. The Strangers . . . not so much.
*. There is literally nothing at all new here. There are things that go bump in the night. Kristen is left alone and then relieved when James returns, who at first doesn’t believe her about the people in masks. Then they are both terrorized. He tries to go for help, without her, telling her that “I’ll be fine.” Yeah. He isn’t. There is a failed rescue attempt by a friend of James that you know is going to fail, and exactly how it is going to fail, five minutes before it plays itself out. How many times do we have to see this Stephen King staple? I think it’s a plot element that can safely be retired now.
*. Kristen screams out “Why are you doing this to us?” Not once, not twice, but three times. Maybe more. I think James says it at one point too. I lost count. Once, I hardly need to say, would have been more than enough. We get the point. The masked killers are psychos. None of this makes any sense or has any purpose. That’s life.
*. One can only take so much cliché. Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) aren’t total morons but they’re pretty darn close. But it was when Kristen fell and twisted her ankle and had to crawl through the woods that I went from being bored with The Strangers to actively hating it.
*. Early on, Kristen decides to don the modern uniform of the last girl: jeans and a tank-top, with a flannel shirt to stay warm. But for some reason she feels that, despite the cold, shoes are unnecessary, even when running around outside. Which is when she falls and of course twists her ankle so she can’t run but can only limp and crawl away from the bad guys. You know the drill.
*. How was this even sold as a screenplay? It runs just 86 minutes and it’s well padded at that. I honestly don’t see where there’s anything to the script beyond an 8-10 page treatment. Indeed, you could pitch this movie in a single sentence — a young couple is terrorized by a trio of masked home invaders — and aside from that what would you add? Even the action/suspense sequences where there is no dialogue are very simple. As I’ve already laid out, it’s pure formula without a single twist to the set-up or any part of the plot.
*. Every now and then you get the sense of an actor who just doesn’t want to be in a movie. Boy did I get that feeling with Scott Speedman here.
*. As you would expect in this enlightened age of horror the ending is nihilistic and cruel. It is also, however, dull and anticlimactic. There’s no horror or tension or drama to it at all. And the final jump scare is both another cliché and stupid to boot. If the film’s “brutal events . . . are still not entirely known,” then how could there be a survivor? Or maybe Kristen is just giving us the twitch of the death nerve. I didn’t care. This movie is garbage and is too lazy to even try to be anything else.