The Strangers has had some box office success uncommon for a low budget ($9,000,000) horror film that was also beset with production and delayed release problems. It pulled in over $20,000,000 on its opening weekend of May 30th and made over $50,000,000 in less than a month. Not bad at all. Okay, but does that mean it is really a great movie? First off the movie, written and directed by Bryan Bertino, is marketed as being based on actual events. The movie even opens with a silly narration about FBI statistics and that the facts in the case of Kristen Mckay and James Hoyt are “still not entirely known”. That is because there has never been a true case of crime that involved a couple named Kristen Mckay and James Hoyt. Despite what you may read on the net by conspiracy nuts there is no such case. Some urban-myth prone bloggers have gone so far as to claim the case is actually true but that all records have been “scrubbed” from the Internet to protect the surviving family members privacy. That is crap. There is no confirmation from the filmmakers that the film is based on the Keddie murders in California in 1981 and the only confirmed true event that inspired Bertino seems to be a unimaginably heinous event from his childhood when a stranger knocked on the family door asking for someone who did not live there. Later it was found out some empty houses in the neighborhood were broken into that night. My God!!!
The story was filmed in rural South Carolina and overall the direction is top notch as well as is the acting from Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, as the victims. The problem is the really lame story and pointless ending where the bad guys triumph and ride off into the sunset assuring each each other "It'll be easier next time". In all honesty the story is one that we brave but jaded soulswho ingest horror/slash films have seen in some form a million times before. People in a house in the woods are stalked by one or more thrill killers whose only motive is to see people suffer and die. We do not expect a great deviation from the slasher film formula and I would say my gripe with this film is just that: that in its attempt to be unique it veers too far away from the formulaic ending where the girl in house either prevails or breaks even against the evil forces that have stalked and tormented her for ninety minutes or more.
After a rather bleak evening where James has had his marriage proposal rejected by Kristen they wind up at the Hoyt family home to sort things out or something. A girl knocks on the door asking for Tamara, but no Tamara lives there (see the connection now to the actual events the film was based on?) and later after James leaves there are loud bangs and knockings all over the house in a scene reminiscent of Nimrod Antal’s similar film from 2007 Vacancy. Little things are moved around the house or disappear causing Kirsten to realize someone is in the house with her and in one fairly creepy scene the Man in the Mask silently watches Kirsten as she fidgets in the kitchen. There are spooky and jolting moments and at times the tension is built up nicely. Liv Tyler carries a lot of the movie on her own and does fine really as the stalked female who must stand face to face with monstrous evil.
The Masked Man revels himself to her from the window it a predictable but effective scene and panic takes her over by the time James returns in response to her frightened phone call (he left her alone in the house after the doll faced girl episode and loud bangings to go get a pack of cigarettes!). At first dubious he soon is convinced as one of the stalkers appears at the end of the driveway in a doll’s mask. Soon the film is a stand off with Kirsten and James inside the house and the psychos both in and out at their leisure. James actually finds a shot gun and plenty of ammunition but only succeeds in killing a friend of his who shows up later. I mean, this guy had a blasted shot gun and blows it. Kirsten and James decide they need to leave the house and run around outside in the dark and try to get to the tool shed and a radio that is located there. Not a good idea of course. This and that effectively jolting event happens but in the end we are left with a totally downbeat ending that makes the whole movie’s journey a waste of time.
The killers simply tie up the hapless pair and stab them to death slowly with a butcher knife. Now you can read into whatever you want, like, that this how life really is and the bad guys win and get away to do it all again. And sadly that is often the case. But also, the bad guys don’t usually just lumber around in near slow motion or sit in swing sets in a doll mask and try to look eerie. That the heros in this film do not inflict even one injury on their evil assailants is just too unbelievable especially considering that two of them are simply human women and the protagonists had a shot gun at one point. Liv Tyler could have been a screen queen to rival Jamie Lee Curtis but instead she winds up a babbling hysterical basket case who can’t hold her ground against even female slashers. Jamie Lee fended off Michael Myers with a clothes hanger or Chrissake. And then we are treating to a totally patronizing life where the two victims realize only too late how much they love each and now say the words... only it is too late. So the lesson we learn from this is you have to say those words while you can people, before a band of serial killers rob you of the opportunity.
This is an okay slasher/stalker type film that did well, I think, based on the hype and marketing. And there is nothing wrong with that. But don't go into thinking it is anything more than an average to slightly above average slasher film. Basically you have two characters that are never fully developed who are beaten down and killed and a trio of killers you never know anything about, not even what they really look like who ride off in a Ford truck most likely into a true event inspired sequel. If you want to see a bleak film based on true events see one of the versions of Helter Skelter (1976 and 2004) based on the Manson Family murders. And Charlie is a lot scarier than a silent, staring girl in a doll mask. Go ahead and see it, but don’t go buying into the true event web lore that has developed around this simple slasher stalks girl in the house film.