The Strangers

 

 THe strangers

I am a fan of being frightened in movies. I’ve mentioned it before and I probably will every time I review a scary movie that I enjoyed watching. The two most influential scary movies in my life are Jaws and The Thing. Jaws focuses on an unlikely set of circumstances, yet managed to prevent me from drowning at the beach at a young age because I was far too afraid to go in past my ankles for the better part of a year after watching it; to this day I’m convinced my mother let me watch it solely so she could feel more at ease when we visited the ocean. The Thing appeals to my love of the mysterious, the supernatural and the terrifying. Carpenter’s Lovecraftian film of unimaginable horror is smart, bloody and chilling. Both of those movies were received very well by critics. I have become increasingly hard to genuinely scare when it comes to movies. As various horror movies dance their way across my eyes, I find that I enjoy and appreciate the well made ones, but it’s getting harder to get that horror feeling in the pit of my stomach when I watch whose sole intent is to spook me. In 2008, however, a movie came out that did not impress critics. It was cliché, often times submitting itself to the horror tropes common of slasher flicks that had been seen many times before. However, The Strangers was a movie that, for the first time in a long time, reminded me what it felt like to be afraid while watching a movie.

The “home invasion” sub-genre of horror was hardly a new thing when The Strangers rolled in to theaters… which is a big reason why I didn’t see it in theaters. I picked up the DVD, on a whim, used at blockbuster for about four bucks. I went over to a friends house and we dimmed the lights an put it in with no expectations. Slowly, as we’re introduced to the characters and their situation I felt the creeping, crawling feeling of fear find its way in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t just uncomfortable with what was happening on the screen, I was scared. Scared for what would happen to the characters and scared that maybe something like this could potentially happen to me someday! The movie centers around a couple reeling from earlier, emotional (but not horrific) events. What is known at first is that the pair drove from a friends wedding late at night to a romantic, secluded, cabin getaway (of course it’s a cabin). The two are, for all intents and purposes, heartbroken and, at first, we don’t know why. As the night progresses, strange occurrences escalate into full blown nightmare fuel. All methods of communication and escape are cut and these two people that we took the time to become emotionally involved with, are fighting for their very lives in a scary and secluded scenario.

There is an intrinsic value in getting the audience to connect with the characters in any genre, however with horror it is absolutely essential. What I like so much about the introduction to The Strangers is the level of emotion placed on the two main characters. The event that puts them in such emotional turmoil isn’t traumatic, it isn’t that someone dies or anything like that, but it’s deeply personal and intimate, something that is shared from the get-go with the audience. The film style is simplistic but incredibly effective at keeping us hooked. There is no real melodramatic background music, no over acting, simply two people dealing with an emotionally difficult situation. What some might consider a slow start is exactly what made this movie so scary for me. The difficulty in getting the audience to relate to a set of people in a horror film before terrorizing them is astronomical. Why? Because rarely do horror filmmakers take the time to connect us with their piece of art. That intimate tone used to get us to sympathize and relate with the characters? That stays the whole movie, but when the emotion switches from something sadly personal and into something personally horrifying, we’re right on the same page as Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) as they make that uncomfortable transition.

The movie is atmospherically superior to most in it’s genre. The tone is claustrophobic and isolating, we know that there should only be TWO people in this cabin, but we know there are more. Sure we see some tried and true cheap scares, but honestly in this instance it added to the whole ordeal, at least for my money. People aren’t always scared by the same things, especially in movies. I will never, ever understand the fear some people exhibit towards the Child’s Play movies. Give this the correct viewing environment for maximum fear and you may be surprised. For me, that environment is alone, in the dark, at night and close to the screen. A horror movie isn’t going to do much unless you yield all of your senses to it, and The Strangers is no exception.