The Strangers (2008)

The Strangers is a 2008 horror movie directed by Brian Bertino. The movie follows a couple terrorized by three masked unknown people, or 'strangers' for the layman. It seems to be a pretty polarizing movie among horror fans, with many loving it, some hating it, and seemingly no one being medium on it. Check out the trailer below, and then see what we thought of the flick. Oh yeah, and let us know who's right about whether this thing is a slasher.

 
 

Jack: The Strangers. It doesn’t seem like we’ll struggle as hard as we did last week to stick to the plot points, because it turns out there are just not that many plot points. We’re just gonna have to try to not exclusively make It’s Always Sunny jokes.

Jake: I feel like you start every post by typing the name of the movie. What do you think is happening, right now?

Jack: Sixty-one words we made it before the Sunny reference. Nailed it. And I don’t want to seem like I’m shitting on the plot right off the bat, simple plots can be excellent. Just ask the Angry Beavers. Angry? Check. Beavers? Check. That is all. I’m just saying, the movie isn’t pushing any boundaries story-wise. It has many of the trappings of a pretty classic slasher movie.

 
You mean this wasn't an allegory for the state of the modern american political system?

You mean this wasn't an allegory for the state of the modern american political system?

 

Jake: I’m not buying the slasher thing at all. Why do you think that? I’m going to get right out of any sort of linearity with the review, but now you’ve opened the door. This is a movie where three mysterious villains terrorize a couple by means of home invasion. Three. They outnumber the victims. So right off the bat we are out of typical slasher territory. There is no body count in this movie. The really essential part of a slasher flick is the crew of characters that get picked off one by one. Usually they are young. Usually they have done something or are guilty of some sort of vice. Usually there is a backstory to the killer (again with the singular). Some sort of suffering that led to his or her status as the slasher. None of that is here. We get 2 deaths? Only one of which is by the killers. Sure, it’s technically by the blade, but it’s only after a full movie of psychological horror, not typical of a slasher film at all. You could even technically try to pull the final girl trope out with this one but if you do, fuck you, because that last 3 seconds of the movie was horseshit and lazy. She was not the final girl in the slasher sense that she confronts the killer. She does bumble around and be useless like most girls in slashers, but she just doesn’t fit the bill. She was tied to a chair and watched her dude get stabbed to death. How in the holy fuck is this a slasher?

Jack: Oh buddy. Open your eyes guy. Use your mind. This is a slasher movie. Perhaps not the prototypical slasher movie, but a slasher nonetheless. The three villains essentially act as one. They stalk the beautiful young couple who is taking a weekend at an isolated cabin in the middle of nowhere. And they wear masks. The killers literally slash the victims. The killers are able to withstand all of the heroes’ attempts to fight back, not through withstanding gunshots and such, sure, but through stealth and always being one step ahead. Sure, there are only two victims, but they are picked off one-by-one. And the stranger-ing starts while the heroes are literally mid-coitus despite being conspicuously not married. I’m not saying this is the archetypal slasher movie, but it damn sure fits into the genre.

 

Or ‘ghhzzzohhnn,’ if you’re a pretentious blow-hard. Just kidding Alex, you’re our hero.

 

Jake: What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent definition were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone reading this is now dumber for having been subjected to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Jack: Nope. I nailed it. The Strangers is a slasher; slashers are horror; horror is life; life strange. QED, fuckwad. To get to the story, the movie jumps right in with something I hate: telling me it’s based on a true story and then that there are however many million violent crimes a year according to whoever. You know the fastest goddamned way to surefire ruin any immersion you could build in the first 20 or so minutes? Awkwardly tell me it’s based on a true story. Good job. I’m fucking terrified now. That makes it sooooooooooo much scarier.

Jake: You know what I hate? Extending the word “so” so that people can tell you’re being sarcastic instead of just writing well so as to indicate your sarcasm. But I guess people in glass houses can’t have two birds in their bushes or whatever. I dislike the intro to this movie because I can’t stand the claim that a film is “inspired by” something. You could pretty much interpret something any way you want and still claim inspiration. You could have said this shit was inspired by some garbage Denny’s meal you had one road trip and no one could really call you a liar. That’s what America’s for, man.

 
Although this has inspired many nightmares for the toilets of the world.

Although this has inspired many nightmares for the toilets of the world.

 

Jack: One time in college I ate three grand slams after a spring break night in Vancouver. That Denny's will never be the same again . . . In any case, to get to the actual story, Kristen and James, played by Liv Tyler and some guy, arrive at James’s rural family cabin. There’s a definite tension between the two, but it’s not immediately clear why. I’m not sure what it was about the early scenes, but they really didn’t do much for me. Maybe it’s the lackluster chemistry between the two, or maybe the dialog was a little stilted. Either way, the early scenes of them being awkward with one-another just didn’t really click for me. I didn’t feel sad, lonely, scared, or whatever the fuck they wanted me to feel. I just felt goddamned bored of those two working their shit out.

Jake: I did like the symbolism and foreshadowing of the very first scene with the wrecked car and the windshield broken out with a heart shaped hole in it. Cute, guys… But yeah, I agree with you, this one was pretty slow to get going.

Jack: It is revealed that they were at a friend’s wedding, and that James proposed to Kristen, but she straight shot him down. James had a whole romantic engaged sex-party thing planned at the cabin for afterwords, but . . . whoops. Instead, it’s just sullen and depressing up in that piece.

Jake: And quiet. The movie kicks things off very quietly. It works well because they obviously don’t have much to say to each other due to what just happened, but also makes the house feel more secluded. It sets the tone for the events to come.

 
Much like the light in the lobby at Denny's. It's a magical place.

Much like the light in the lobby at Denny's. It's a magical place.

 

Jack: And it builds tension pretty well. There’s a record player in the cabin, but their vinyl collection appears to consist of a weird combination of contemplative singer/songwriters and bluegrass. Odd, but that doesn’t matter so much, because the sound design of the movie is incredible. From start to finish, the consistently best aspect of the movie is the sound.

Jake: It was eclectic, but natural. Just like my collection. I didn’t find the Joanna Newsom too terribly out of place. It’s a good thing too, because that’s the first bit of sound in the whole movie. And I couldn’t agree more regarding the sound design. It was fucking unbelievable. If you watch this thing with the sound way up, you are winning.

Jack: You know, I was all ready to agree with you about the Joanna Newsom, but then your goddamned link started with an ad for denim or some shit, so I’m off it. Fuck you. So James then has to call his buddy Dennis . . . err . . . Mike, to come up and get him because he can’t take being stuck at the cabin with his decidedly not-fiancee. But then they have sex because reasons. During that sex, which is emphatically pre-marital, there’s a knock on the door, and it’s some creepy girl. Her face is obscured by shadow, and when they answer, she asks for Tamara. She presumably wants to punish them for their sexual deviancy. Like a classic slasher villain. Count it. When they tell her she’s in the wrong place, she tells them that she will see them later. Subtle foreshadowing, although it didn’t take anything away from the rest of the movie I guess.

Jake: We’re not starting the slasher argument again, and definitely not over some bullshit puritanical beliefs like that. You wanna throw with the patriot? Anyway, it had been such a slow burn to that point that you obviously knew something had to happen. I liked the choice not to fuck around with it. That girl at the door makes it pretty damn clear she’s got something wrong with her.

Jack: In any case, the creepy bitch leaves and then James can’t be in the cabin, so he ‘valiantly’ exits to go buy Kristen cigarettes because he hates her now and wants her to die I guess. While he’s gone, the girl from earlier starts knocking again and clomping around like some tremendous house horse. And that’s when things start happening. It starts with jump scares. Fucking good jump scares. That scene where Kristen pulls back the curtain to reveal bag-mask man is terrifying. He sneaks in and steals Kristen’s phone.

Jake: How are these maniacs that stealthy when they want to be? They block the flue of the fireplace and seem to be pulling some serious obfuscation maneuvers to fuck with this girl. They are basically the Little Giants running the annexation of Puerto Rico of psycho killers. I found it creepy for sure. It maintains a sincerity and heaviness the entire time. But this is also where I start to have a hard time suspending my disbelief.

 
Next week on A-Z Horror, we review 1994's scariest movie. Or something.

Next week on A-Z Horror, we review 1994's scariest movie. Or something.

 

Jack: Damn dude. Props. That was a tremendous string of references. But I didn’t think it strained credulity. I think it was the camera work that sold it. The way the shots wouldn’t quite show every corner of a room, but then would almost shake like it was struggling to see every corner were great. At some point, James gets back from getting the cigarettes, and, of course, there is no sign of the mayhem that ensued. After mansplaining like a boss to Kristen that she probably didn’t lose her phone (classic women, amirite?!), he realizes that his car has been ransacked. Probably by people who had nothing to do with Kristen losing her phone.

Jake: Couldn’t have been. Zero percent likelihood.

Jack: That’s when the villains fully start to reveal themselves. Three lunatics. Different masks. Except two of them are the same. The two ladies get a doll mask and a pin-up girl mask respectively, while the dude gets a much creepier scarecrow from batman begins-style mask.

Jake: How are they the same? You just described them as being different. They looked fucking awesome though.

Jack: They did look fucking awesome. I just wished they would have had three unique kinds of masks. The dude’s was awesome, and the women’s were really cool too, but they looked exactly the same. Come up with some third mask for one of the women. Like, like, like, I dunno, like a hat. Like a big ol’ hat that goes beeeeeeyooooowoooop.

 
I know we reference this scene a lot, but you wouldn't intervene on Lance Brumder for a lack of good ideas.

I know we reference this scene a lot, but you wouldn't intervene on Lance Brumder for a lack of good ideas.

 

Jack: The masked strangers (oh, I see what they did there) start to terrorize James and Kristen by popping up in various windows, behind various trees, in the shadows of various rooms, etc. At some point, Mike (played by Glenn Howerton of That 80’s Show fame) shows up still wearing the suit he wore to the wedding. What the fuck? It’s like 6:00 AM right? Did he crash on a floor somewhere like a teenager at a house party? Did he party all night and drive up drunk? I know some mothers that would get madd at him for that.

Jake: And I see what you did, there… you loser. Maybe he always dresses like that? Who are you to judge? He might be an erotic man, Jack. He might be D - demonstrating his value.

Jack: The scariest thing about this first half of the movie is that it feels like you would fare no better than the heroes. In so many of these movies, you’re screaming at the screen because of the dumb maneuvers made that were not the protagonists’ best option. Not so here . . . until about halfway through anyway. But we’ll get to that later.

Jake: Yeah, I completely agree. It is this movie’s strongest selling point barring the sound design.

Jack: In any case, Mike finds the ransacked house and starts to investigate, notably not announcing his presence for some reason. When he gets to the closet in which James and Kristen have barricaded themselves, James pulls the trigger on his dad’s old shotgun they found and blows Mike’s face right the fuck off. He got blasted in the mouth. Sort of. It’s actually a pretty gut-wrenching and emotional scene, despite a lack of any character development for Mike. It’s effective, and I can’t figure out why.

Jake: Because you feel a deeper attachment to Mike because you don’t think of  him as Mike so stop calling him Mike. Ok? Anyway, this is the product of one of the most infuriating sequences in the movie, and it has several. They have the shotgun before barricading themselves in that closet. They know it’s there prior to the part where one of the psychos starts breaking down the door with an axe like they are Jack fuckin’ Torrance. If he knows how to load and shoot a shotgun, which he demonstrates through his blowing his friend’s face off of his face, he damn sure had enough time to load that fucker and fill that asshole outside full of buckshot. And they never would have seen or heard what was going on because they were too busy chopping. But nope.

Jack: Yeah, this is what I was talking about earlier. The movie takes a turn about you faring no better than the characters. Around this point, they start making some real donkey-brained decisions. When they lose almost all hope, James tells Kristen that he’s going to go to the shed to get an old radio up and running. Alone. While fighting against three creeps in masks whose primary advantage is that you can’t see where they all are. Not having a second set of eyes seems like a good idea James. Jesus.

Jake: Well, you start putting plans under microscopes, and nothing makes sense anymore. But you are right, this is Infuriating aspect number two. Couldn’t agree more. Meanwhile, Kristen is just being useless and crawling around, somewhere.

Jack: From that point on, the movie kind of loses me. James gets captured, Kristen tries to get to the radio, but she gets captured too. They both wake up bound and with the strangers standing in front of them. Incidentally, was it just me, or did the dude-stranger’s suit color vary wildly in this last scene? It seemed clearly brown, but then the camera cut and it seemed dark blue or black. It’s that fucking dress nightmare all over again. But more important. Because nothing was less important than that fucking dress thing.

 
*Editor's note* And you guys read this site . . . for some reason. You know the kind of inconsequential shit these guys are willing to focus on.

*Editor's note* And you guys read this site . . . for some reason. You know the kind of inconsequential shit these guys are willing to focus on.

 

Jake: I noticed that too and thought it was odd. I got past it because I was about ready for them to just get on with whatever they were going to get on with, but it was noticeable.

Jack: Then James and Kristen get stabbed by the strangers. The stabbing is lingered on in a way that’s vaguely reminiscent of the torture porn movies, but only vaguely. The stabbing feels brutal, but not gratuitous. It’s well done. Then some dickhead mormon kid tries to grab himself some sweet corpse-titty and the movie fades to black.

Jake: Only after she wakes up and screams because these non-slasher villains in a movie that is not a slasher couldn’t even stab her well enough to kill her. They were great at sneaking and fucking with the two victims’ heads, but not at killing them. Good work.

Jack: Hey Jake, brace yourself, but I’m suspending my segment this week in favor of a game.

Jake: You’re not doing your segment this week huh? Fucking staggering. I am blown away.

Jack: Fuck you. In any case, game time: Without looking, guess how many It’s Always Sunny References we just made in that review in which we were trying not to make Sunny references.

Jake: Actually, this is a much better segment. It’s hard to get in your head, but I’m going to go with eight?

Jack: Damn, you’re actually pretty close. I counted seven. Which I think is pretty good and D-demonstrates our restraint. Damn it. Eight.

Jake: . . . So like, do I win? And what do I win?

Jack: Hmm? What’s that? Win? Why would you win anything?

Jake: You literally just fucking called it a game!! You’re terrible at ‘segments’, but you’re somehow inexplicably worse at ‘games’. I would not have thought it possible. I’m gonna say the readers win because it’s mercifully time to rate this thing.


RATINGS (1-10)

For 1, think of how you would rate Kim Cattrall’s slam-poetry skills:

 
 

For 10, think of how great Spuran Spuran is:

 
 

STORY

Jack: 5 - Like I mentioned, it’s certainly not groundbreaking, but they don’t overdo it and don’t screw anything up. And just ask Gordon Ramsey: sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to perfect, like making sure your risotto isn’t FUCKING RAW!!!

Jake: 5 - Yep. Nothing revolutionary here but done about the way you would expect.

WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:

Jack: 6 - You feel trapped and isolated right along with the characters through most of the movie. It took me out a bit once it was clear the characters’ fates were sealed, and this score would damn sure be a lot higher without that bullshit at the beginning about it being a true story.

Jake: 6 - Dude. You knew their fates were sealed 10 seconds into the movie. I loved the isolation and overall, that has a lot to do with the stellar sound design. This is a pretty quiet movie with very good sound. The scene where one of the killers puts the Merle Haggard album on had me clenching my fists a bit. That shit was good. From shotgun scene on, it was only downhill.

SCARE-FACTOR:

Jack: 6 - The jump scares are good. As are the shots with the strangers lingering in the background of the woods or house. You’ll be checking spare rooms and double-checking that your doors are locked for a night or two. Apart from that, the feelings of isolation and dread only really carry you through to the next jump scare.

Jake: 6.5 - The lack of explanation and idea that there could be some twisted bastards out there that just want to terrify you, torture you and kill you is a seriously fucked up thing to think about. This could happen. That is scary, regardless of some of the film’s execution.

EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):

Jack: 8 - The fact that the strangers are really just creeps in masks who are good at running quietly adds a fucking lot to the movie. It didn’t try to do too much.

Jake: 6.5 - This movie is minimalist, and it benefits because of it.

OVERALL:

Jack: 6 - I like the Strangers a decent little bit. It has some of the more effective jump scares in the biz.

Jake: 6 - I actually liked this movie less than I feel my score indicates, and certainly less than most people I have talked to about it.