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The Strangers

Movie title: The Strangers (2008)
Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R
Director: Bryan Bertino
Producers: Thomas J. Busch, Doug Davison, (Exec.) Joseph Drake, (Exec.) Marc D. Evans, Nathan Kahane, (Exec.) Kelli Konop, Roy Lee, (Exec.) Trevor Macy, (Exec.) Sonny Mallhi
Starring: Scott Speedman “James Hoyt,” Liv Tyler “Kristen McKay,” Gemma Ward “Dollface,” Kip Weeks “Man in the Mask,” Laura Margolis “Pin-Up Girl,” Glenn Howerton “Mike”
Genre: Thriller/Horror/Mystery
Summation: A couple is attacked by mysterious assailants in their family’s summer home.
Spoilers ahead: No
In a word: Desperate

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I have a friend who goes into hysterics when, at the right moment, I repeat a certain phrase from her favorite television show The Chappelle’s Show. But every time I try to make her laugh by deliberately repeating it, she tells me that it doesn’t come out right. I can’t do it on command, she says. It has to be spontaneous and natural-sounding when said in the right moment or it loses its affect.

Speaking of losing affects, The Strangers does just that after beginning with a powerful and promising start.

I’ll admit, the film had a genuinely scary aura to it. The settings and lighting were just right. I liked the characters and the acting, for what it was worth. And to its credit, it didn’t go the way of so many lame horror flicks by throwing in a sex scene-turned-death scene.

The cryptic elements pop out almost immediately when a lost, helpless-looking girl comes to the door repeatedly, even after being turned away. One gets the impression that a wayward soul still seeking her consort is afloat. Not long afterwards, however, it loses steam.

A certain frustration develops from the film’s becoming inconsistent on the implied supernatural elemental plot-points. A girl appearing in the distance and then vanishing at a mere glance away, a hand on the back of a man’s neck in his car, the miscreants getting inside the house and moving around cell phones for some eerie suspense, it’s all fine and good. But then it heads in the other direction.

These “ghosts,” strangely enough, are unable to find people without conventionally searching for them, and if they find the humans, they must use man-made weapons to kill them. They carry these weapons around with them all throughout the film. These “ghosts” drive trucks and even take religious literature from two Mormons. They also wear masks and appear downright sensitive about showing their faces, making them the strangest darn ghosts I’ve ever heard of!

In these things, the film tries too hard to stay mystically scary. And “gag me with a spoon” is my description for the mellow-dramatic tendency to have sudden screams come from bodies that appear to be dead. Such lack of creativity unmistakably detracts from the quality of the movie. And every keen movie enthusiast should know that when a movie resorts to surprise scream scares, it's because the director is desperate to leave an impression with the audience and isn't confident in the movie's ability to be scary for the raw content of the film. Not a good sign!

The Strangers is based off an allegedly obscure 911 call made on February 11, 2005, but is also based on an experience from the childhood of director Bryan Bertino. Bertino’s admitted fascination with the Manson murders factored into the development of the film as well.

The annoying, burning questions that are left behind are not the stuff that makes for expected ruminations to come from having watched a breathtaking horror movie. No, they’re just pointless and unsatisfying.

Having watched it, I don’t feel that much has been accomplished. I don’t regret seeing the movie, but I don’t feel like the movie left me with anything remarkable. My mind wasted no time filing it away in that “Oh yeah, I did see that a long time ago” category.

It was scary and chilling in the initial phases, but soon became enveloped in confusion as it tried too hard to be a shocker. That is a shame since a lot in the film was done right. This could have been a phenomenal accomplishment with the right directing.

As it is, it might win a few fans and possibly even become a cult classic, but it’s not going to have too many people buzzing about it.

(JH)

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