The Strangers, an American psychological horror film from 2008, was written and directed by Bryan Bertino. Three masked assailants break into the holiday home where Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are staying, disrupting their vacation.
The Manson family Tate murders, which resulted in several deaths, and a string of break-ins that took place in Bertino’s childhood neighborhood served as the basis for the screenplay. Though Bertino did not specifically mention it, some media noticed parallels between the movie and the 1981 Keddie cabin murders in Keddie, California.
The Strangers Plot
James Hoyt and Kristen McKay are returning from a friend’s wedding when they arrive at James’ boyhood vacation home in a remote, rural area at night. As a result of Kristen rejecting James’ marriage proposal after the reception, the tension between the two is high. James contacts Mike and requests that he take him up in the morning. There is a strong knock on the door shortly after 4:00 a.m. James turns away a young blonde who asks the pair, “Is Tamara here?”
but her face is obscured by inadequate illumination. James lights a fire in the fireplace before he leaves and goes for a drive to buy Kristen a pack of cigarettes. When he doesn’t show up, Kristen hears another knock at the door but doesn’t answer it.
The Strangers Cast
- Liv Tyler portraying Kristen McKey
- As James Hoyt, Scott Speedman
- As Dollface, Gemma Ward
- Man in the Mask: Kip Weeks
- As a pinup girl, Laura Margolis
- Michael Glenn Howerton
The Strangers Review
Only a tyro writer-director like Bryan Bertino would dare pitch such an absurd idea, given how simple it is. Even the comparable French-Romanian film Ils (Them) was based on a revelation that complicated its plot of a couple being terrorized by barely seen intruders. This is a single notion with just enough character development to compel an audience to empathize with the victims.
Romantic In the hopes that his girlfriend, Liv Tyler, will accept a marriage proposal, James (Scott Speedman) has decorated his remote family retreat with rose petals, Champagne, and candles. However, things haven’t gone as planned (cannibally, we never learn why she rejected him), and both are dejected when the first apparent prankster knocks on the door.
The Strangers looks to the 1970s, like a lot of contemporary horrors, from the Grindhouse gang’s homages to the flat multiplex remakes of drive-in classics. It begins with a chilling, Texas Chain Saw Massacre-style “What you are about to see is inspired by true events” voiceover, and an admirably distraught Tyler engages in a bloody game of hide-and-seek with a murderer in a mask. Bertino has figured out the secret of the slasher film: you can’t have suspense if you focus too much on making your creatures cool and not enough on the helpless victims going through the torture.
The three strangers, who are wearing plastic masks or an inside-out pillowcase, are somewhat reminiscent of the Mansons, but they lack Michael Myers’ urban legend psycho background. One of the most terrifying moments occurs when the masks come off, but even then, we can’t really see their features.
Unquestionably, this is an effective suspense-horror film, and Bertino stages quiet chills and brief, sharp shocks with a technical mastery that suggests he has a future if he ever develops a heart. The most brutal ’70s horror movies still had humor and perspective, unlike many current movies (Hostel, Vacancy, Eden Lake, even The Dark Knight), so something is missing.
This merely demonstrates a dogged dedication to being no fun at all, which is only hazily admirable but ultimately futile. The message of horror films from the 1970s was that straight society was insane; the message of films from 2008 is that other people are garbage; it’s a subtle shift, but it makes a depressing difference.
How to Watch Strangers
The Strangers is available for rental or purchase on Google Play or Vudu, and you may stream it there. The Strangers is available to watch on Tubi without charge.