×

The Strangers

A young couple at a remote house get some very-latenight, highly unwelcome visitors in debuting writer-director Bryan Bertino's effectively stripped-down thriller "The Strangers."

With:
Kristen McKay - Liv Tyler James Hoyt - Scott Speedman Dollface - Gemma Ward Man in the Mask - Kip Weeks Pin-Up Girl - Laura Margolis Mike - Glenn Howerton

A young couple at a remote house get some very-latenight, highly unwelcome visitors in debuting writer-director Bryan Bertino’s effectively stripped-down thriller “The Strangers.” Offering home invasion horror on a less intellectualized plane than the recent “Funny Games U.S.,” “Strangers” should court correspondingly more robust patronage from mainstream fright fans — even if this exercise, too, might leave some viewers wondering what the point is at the punishing journey’s end.

In an opening that appears to reprise, with seriousness, ’70s genre cliches parodied in “Grindhouse’s” mock horror trailers, a male voice grimly reads onscreen titles informing us that the events we’re about to see actually took place at 1801 Clark Road on Feb. 11, 2005. (This is a ruse, as Bertino has said the story isn’t based on any particular case.) We then see two boys on bicycles bearing Christian literature cautiously step into a home whose destroyed front door is just the first sign of violence.

Popular on Variety

On the soundtrack, a woman’s hysterical call to 911 is heard.

Rewind to the night before, as Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) silently drive back from a wedding reception, she in tears. Reaching his family’s old vacation home — strewn with candles and rose petals in anticipation of a now-unlikely romantic finale to the evening — it gradually becomes clear he proposed, and her answer was not the one expected. Nonetheless, they’re about to embark on some make-up sex when there’s a knock at the door, which is odd, since it’s 4 a.m.

Porch light out, they dimly spy a blond girl outside, asking “Is Tamara here?” She’s assured she has the wrong house. Later, needing a drive to settle his nerves, James goes to get Kristen some cigarettes, leaving her alone in the isolated house surrounded by woods.

She isn’t alone for long, though.

Separation of leads, personal injuries, a friend’s untimely arrival and other invariably dire turns of fate keep the action, which more or less plays out in real time, taut. Bertino, lenser Peter Sova and editor Kevin Greutert make things queasily simple: There’s a distinct absence of the usual shock cuts, false scares, or even gore f/x, though things get bloody enough.

The disturbingly unemotional antagonists played by Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks and Laura Margolis are just fleetingly glimpsed until quite late.

Quiet is used to unsettling effect, with tomandandy’s near-musique concrete score as well as what’s supposed to be old vinyl folk/country records (but are in fact mostly new alt-country tracks by the likes of Gillian Welch and Wilco) sparsely deployed.

It’s all efficiently nerve-jangling, with Tyler and Speedman credibly registering every hue of panic. Still, after such a long, creepy, cannily restrained buildup (in order to look more action-packed, the pic’s promos cannibalize bits from right up toward the end), it must be said the resolution is rather flat, a full-circle postscript rote. Instead of the chill atmosphere following one out of the theater, these last moments instill a more “Yeah, whatever” aftertaste.

Shot in South Carolina, the production’s tech and design elements are all on the money.

The Strangers

Production: A Rogue Pictures release, presented with Intrepid Pictures, of a Vertigo Entertainment and Mandate Pictures production. Produced by Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Nathan Kahane. Executive producers, Kelli Konop, Joe Drake, Sonny Mallhi, Trevor Macy, Marc D. Evans. Co-producer, Thomas J. Busch. Directed, written by Bryan Bertino.

Crew: Camera (color, Panavision), Peter Sova; editor, Kevin Greutert; music, tomandandy; music supervisor, Season Kent; production designer, John D. Kretschmer; art director, Linwood Taylor; set decorator, Missy Berent; costume designer, Susan Kaufmann; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Jeffree Bloomer; supervising sound editor, Scott A. Hecker; assistant directors, Linda Brachman, Rudy A. Persico; casting, Lindsey Hayes Kroeger, David H. Rappaport. Reviewed at Variety Club Screening Room, San Francisco, May 19, 2008. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: Kristen McKay - Liv Tyler James Hoyt - Scott Speedman Dollface - Gemma Ward Man in the Mask - Kip Weeks Pin-Up Girl - Laura Margolis Mike - Glenn Howerton

More Film

  • Mickey Rourke

    Mickey Rourke Joins Religious Drama 'Man of God'

    Pure Flix/Quality Flix has picked up international sales rights to religious drama “Man of God,” starring Mickey Rourke, Aris Servetalis and Alexander Petrov. The rights are for sale at the Berlin Film Festival. “Man of God,” directed and written by Yelena Popovic. Producers are Alexandros Potter and Yelena Popovic through their company Simeon Entertainment and [...]

  • Young Hunter

    'Young Hunter': Film Review

    Director-writer Marco Berger has been playing with same-sex seduction since his debut, “Plan B,” frequently pitching one confident gay man against a more closeted or curious conquest. Eleven years after that first feature, his latest, “Young Hunter,” continues to riff on the same theme, here exhibiting parallels with the entrapment scenario of 2011’s “Absent” in [...]

  • Kumail Nanjiani Stuber

    Film News Roundup: Kumail Nanjiani Boards Political Thriller 'The Independent'

    In today’s film news roundup, Kumail Nanjiani has been cast as a journalist, Daisy Ridley boards Imax’s “Asteroid Hunters,” “Best Summer Ever” leads off a festival, Shelley Duvall gets an honor and “Dark Harvest” lands at MGM. PROJECT LAUNCH Kumail Nanjiani will star in the political thriller “The Independent,” which is being introduced to buyers [...]

  • Balloon

    'Balloon': Film Review

    On paper, the plight of a pair of families fleeing 1979’s East Germany in a hot air balloon sounds like fabricated fodder for a spy novel. But as implausible as it sounds, this “The Mysterious Island”-esque grand escape from Deutschland’s then walled-in, oppressive slice really did happen. And nearly four decades after being the subject [...]

  • J.D. Dillard Star Wars

    New 'Star Wars' Movie in Development With 'Sleight' Director, 'Luke Cage' Writer

    Lucasfilm is developing a new “Star Wars” feature film with “Sleight” writer-director J.D. Dillard and “Luke Cage” writer Matt Owens, Variety has confirmed. The project is still in its very early stages, and all further details — characters, location, time period within the “Star Wars” creative galaxy — remain a mystery. That includes whether Dillard would [...]

  • Foster Boy

    Shaquille O'Neal on Why Foster Care Is the Great Untold Story

    It’s no secret that I have suffered some losses lately. For better or worse, my pain and grief are public. But I understand the opportunity to face the pain, learn from it, and model a behavior. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But there are hundreds of thousands of kids across the U.S. — [...]

  • Emerald Run

    'Emerald Run': Film Review

    “Emerald Run” is one of the weirdest hodgepodges to make its way to theater screens and digital platforms in quite some time. Unfortunately, oddness is just about the only thing this muddled little indie has going for it. Despite the game efforts of lead actor David Chokachi and attractive lensing by DP Michael Caradonna, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content