Silence cuts like a butcher knife in “The Strangers,” an unsettling, well-crafted film that finds terror not by dumping buckets of blood, but by employing restraint.
This is a home invasion thriller that, at least early on, lets evil glide into the room, rather than bursting through the door with a machete.
Yes, there is an axe, and other assorted horror movie clichés—inoperable cell phones, a trashed car, very bad men and women in masks—but “The Strangers” is hardly of the “Friday the 13th” ilk.
It’s nearly 4 a.m., and James (Scott Speedman) has arrived at his family’s summer home with his girlfriend Kristen (Liv Tyler).
The night has not gone well for the couple, who find themselves in relationship limbo.
Rose petals scattered about the well-appointed home, an uncorked bottle of champagne, and a small velvet box sitting on the table convey what might have been for the young lovers.
While the two inwardly grapple with their future, a knock on the door sets the grim story in motion.
It’s a girl asking, “Tamara is home?”
They dismiss the incident as unusual—it’s nearly dawn, after all—if unremarkable, and continue to brood.
James takes a drive to fetch Kristen a pack of cigarettes. While away, she begins to hear strange noises.
Things in the home are moved around, just slightly. She sees masked figures.
By the time James comes back, Kristen is a wreck.
Audiences might be as well.
As the three masked invaders are revealed, dread builds with each revolution of the old LP playing in the country home.
An explanation for the terror? “Because you were home,” one of the intruders says in a voice so dead it is as chilling as the inexplicable answer.
Speedman and Tyler turn in fine, vulnerable performances both before and after the terror begins—a rarity for the genre.
It all amounts to a smart, impressive first-time effort by director/writer Bryan Bertino, who understands the sinister potential of subtlety.
In “The Strangers,” the devil is in the details.
The Strangers. Rated R for violence/terror and language. Running time: 90 minutes. With: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Laura Margolis, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, and Glenn Howerton.