The Strangers (2008)
by Bryan Bertino
Strangers is supposedly inspired by true events and the on
at the beginning of the film informs the viewer that:
to the FBI, there are an estimated 1.4 million violent
crimes in America each year.
On the night of February 11th,
2005, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt left
a friend's wedding reception and returned to the Hoyt family's summer
The brutal events that took
place there are still not entirely known.'
The film begins with a 911 call placed by a young
boy who has wandered
into the Hoyt residence and found the carnage left there. He tells the
operator there is blood everywhere and so, right from the
beginning, the viewer is aware The
Strangers is unlikely to have
a happy ending.
The next scene shows Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman)
returning from the aforementioned wedding reception and they both
appear to be shell-shocked. James has proposed to Kristen, she has
turned him down, and he is taking it hard.
When they arrive home it becomes apparent that
James, not anticipating rejection, has tried to make the occasion as
special as possible. The floor is carpeted with red rose
petals, as is much of the furniture, and the table is set for a
champagne supper by candlelight.
James suppers alone and, while Kristen takes a
indulges in a spot of comfort eating and consoles himself with a big,
fat tub of ice cream. When Kristen comes back downstairs the atmosphere
is tense for a
while, but then the couple seem to be close to making up. So close, in
fact, that James has already helped Kristen out of her knickers. The
moment is lost when the pair are interrupted by a knock at the
door. It is 04:05—a little early (or late) for visitors, but James
door anyway and finds a young blond girl standing on the step. Young
and blond is about as much as he or the viewer can tell though, because
the porch lights seem to have mysteriously stopped working. "Is Tamara
here?" she asks him, and when James tells her that she has got the
house the girl leaves. Or so it seems. When James takes the car and
goes to buy Kristen a pack of cigarettes, the girl returns: "Is Tamara
This is the
point where the terror really begins. The girl persists in knocking on
the door and when Kristen rings James on his mobile the house phone
goes dead. No big deal on its own, but the battery in Kristen's cell is
flat and she quickly comes to realize that she is not alone in the
house. It is a while before she sees the intruder, but the viewer is
aware of his presence much sooner—a man with a sack over his head.
Meanwhile the girl continues to bang on the door, is now wearing a
mask, and has a friend with her—another girl in a mask.
It is not too long before James gets back, but by then the intruders
have faded into the background and James thinks that Kristen
is exaggerating. By the time he realizes that she is not it is too
late; his car has been trashed and the he and Kristen are trapped.
is a scary film and the fact that it is supposedly
based on true events adds a little extra edge to the terror. The
soundtrack is also extremely effective and I was on the edge of my seat
as I listened to the intruders banging about while the record on the
player blasted out a rather freaky-sounding tune.
At first Kristen and James only get occasional
glimpses of their unwanted guests and just the sight of them in their
various masks is enough to give any viewer the heebie-jeebies, but it
is never very long before the intruders disappear again and it is twice
not to know where they are. As an example, at one point
Kristen is injured, and crawling along the lawn, when she sees a girl
sitting on the
swing. Kristen looks away for a moment, and when she looks back the
gone, leaving the swing to swing alone.
The masked maniacs take their time. They obviously
their victims and are so confident and competent at it that
it creates the impression they have done it many times before. In the
when they have finished playing, and are ready to get down to business,
they remove their masks and the fact that have removed them provides
the viewer with a
good idea of what is coming next. Kristen and James
are tied to chairs. They are going nowhere. They will identify no one.
"Why are you doing this to us," Kristen asks and the answer to that
question is very scary indeed: "Because you were home." Everyone needs
to feel safe in their home and the idea that someone could be
terrorized like this in a place that should be their sanctuary, and for
no reason at all, is the stuff of nightmares. Home should never be the
wrong place at the wrong time.
I enjoyed watching The
Strangers. The terror builds up nicely all the
way through the film and rises to a crescendo point at the end. There
is, as you might expect, a certain amount of blood on display, but not
as much as a lot of the more popular slasher films can boast. The guts
of this film is the story itself, and the way it is presented is scary
enough without the need for any extra offal on display.
theartrical or rated cut
of the film
Elements of Terror
(featurette about the making of The
Liv Tyler ... Kristen McKay
Scott Speedman ... James Hoyt
Glenn Howerton ... Mike
Gemma Ward ... Dollface
Kip Weeks ... Man in the Mask
Laura Margolis ... Pin-Up Girl
Alex Fisher ... 1st Mormon Boy
Peter Clayton-Luce ... 2nd Mormon Boy