There’s a moment in The Strangers, the horror/thriller starring Liv Tyler, that is so incredibly low-key that its significance may well go overlooked by unfocussed members of the audience, yet is one of the most bone-chilling scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Such is the promise of fledgling director Bertino who, it would appear, has a bright future lying in wait.
Touted as being based on a true story (really, nothing more than a parable based on newspaper home-invasion tales Bertino soaked up as kid, coupled with a heavy dollop of the Manson murders), The Strangers tells the story of dating couple Kristen McKay and James Hoyt (Tyler and Speedman) who retreat to Hoyt’s parents' country cottage after a downer day spent at a friend’s wedding, only to find themselves under siege by a trio of mysterious masked psychopaths (Weeks, Ward and Margolis). Eschewing the audience’s desire for logic and answers, Bertino keeps the film’s narrative as spartan as possible, leaving the viewer as much in the dark as the protagonists as to the motivations behind the assault. This unknown, coupled with the mounting indications that the attackers could easily decide the couple’s fate at any time but choose to prolong their game of cat and mouse for the pure thrill of it all, is what gives this movie its edge.It’s the nature of the human mind to seek answers and motivation in tales of tragedy, whether they are stories in the news, one’s life, or from the print or celluloid realm. If somebody snaps, we have to find logic as to why, which is why stories or events whose sole motivating common denominator is nothing more than a mercurial thrill killing aren’t to everyone’s taste, and goes a long way towards explaining the mixed critical reaction to The Strangers. Yet as much as I found myself wanting more than Bertino’s nihilistic ending, I also couldn’t imagine a better way to wrap it up. Sometimes life (and death) just doesn’t come with a pat answer, and in this case, Bertino deserves praise for not providing one.
EXTRAS ** Just two deleted scenes and a makking-of featurette called The Elements of Terror.