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The Strangers Takes from the Best of Horror

The Strangers
Written and directed by Bryan Bertino
Universal, 2008

My philosophy with horror is that distance matters. I have preached this probably a million times in reviews over the years that spatial relationships have more to do with being scary than almost anything. The horror classic Halloween, from which The Strangers takes many cues, allowed us to see prey being stalked with creepy use of widescreen. It beckoned the viewer to search the entire frame for possible danger. As a viewer, when you are made to look for danger, rather than what most horror movies do and that’s slam a bunch of blood and noise in your face with very little setup, then the movie becomes a more active exercise in fear.

Another horror classic (one I actually didn’t like as much as most) is the original The Haunting. That film is regularly cited for its use of sound to ramp up the tension. The use of threatening, but still mysterious sound also offers a lot to a horror movie. And if more directors practiced these simple arts of horror, there would be a whole hell of a lot better horror movies out there. As is, the genre is littered with “worst of the year” entries.

In The Strangers, James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and his girlfriend Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) have arrived at Hoyt’s father’s summer home. Hoyt has just been turned down in his proposal of marriage, and the house has embarrassing reminders of the happiness he thought he would be celebrating. James calls his friend Mike (Glenn Howerton) to come pick him up early. A lot of thought and discussion is going to have to take place to mend the relationship.

But first, the couple is going to have to be stalked and terrorized by people in masks. Much like Michael Myers, they toy with their victims and seem to enjoy the whole freakout part of the job. They’re just as content to stand out on the lawn and stare towards the house as they are in actually coming in for the attack.

The Strangers is a freaking scary movie. I have a hard time getting the least bit scared in any movie, but this one definitely made me nervous and gave me a good sense of fright. Much like last year’s No Country for Old Men and We Own the Night, director Bryan Bertino doesn’t use an overdone score during his money scenes, he opts for quiet and sound effects. He doesn’t spike the soundtrack with “DUH DUH DUH!” moments. All that’s left is tension. And it shows that he gave a lot of thought to his film.

So if there’s any way at all, hopefully this movie will make some decent bank this weekend against Sex and the City. It might have to find its audience on video, but it should definitely find an audience.

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