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STRANGERS, THE (director/writer: Bryan Bertino; cinematographer: Peter Sova; editor: Kevin Greutert; music: Tomandandy; cast: Liv Tyler (Kristen McKay), Scott Speedman (James Hoyt), Gemma Ward (Dollface), Kip Weeks (the Man in the Mask), Laura Margolis (Pin-Up Girl), Glenn Howerton (Mike); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Doug Davison/Roy Lee/Nathan Kahane; Rogue Pictures; 2008)
“Left me feeling exploited as this vile pretentious thriller never committed itself to being more than a rip-off scare flick.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

First-time director Bryan Bertino advances from his former position as a grip to shoot this well-crafted but trashy throwback 1970s thriller (a 33-rpm turntable seals that deal) that’s loaded with cheap thrills, gratuitous violence and a pretense to being an arty gorefest. The all too familiar white-knuckler has the vulnerable unsuspecting victims facing intruders in their home and that genre is exploited here again without anything fresh. It covers the same bloody ground as Peckinpah’s superior “Straw Dogs” (71) and Haneke’s more effective unpleasant psychological thriller “Funny Games” (97), capturing only the nihilistic trappings of the latter but failing to bring together a compelling story that holds up to scrutiny when the sun rises and we see how vacuous this sociopath killing spree plays out. It gives us the creeps by letting us in how the couple was brutally attacked, yet manages to do little else that mattered (like have something to say about such violence other than it happens or present a workable story that would make it fit for a perceptive movie instead of seeming like a cold treatment one would present in film school but would never get green lighted into a film).

Volvo driving yuppie James (Scott Speedman) takes his attractive girlfriend Kristen (Liv Tyler), after attending a friend’s wedding reception, to spend the evening at dad’s plush isolated summer house. It’s 4 AM and he’s got the champagne, candles, rose petals and jewelry, as he proposes. But the lady is not ready for marriage and turns him down. They both feel bummed out, and think things can’t get worse. But they do, as a strange young woman knocks hard against the sturdy wood door and asks if Tamara is home. She’s told by James that she got the wrong address and vanishes into the surrounding woods. The restless James suddenly feels compelled to take a drive and leave Kristen home alone, and you can easily guess what’s to follow.

This disturbing film quickly moves into an exercise in creating pointless suspense and violence. The same strange girl returns asking again for Tamara, and frightens the home alone Kristen. Then Kristen’s cell phone vanishes, a man who has some kind of wrapping covering his face appears by the window to silently stare and there’s also another lady in a doll mask popping up from the woods. By the time James returns all sorts of mayhem starts—from the front door smashed by an ax, James’s car smashed, and all the phone lines cut. The couple is trapped in their home and the intruders go on a bloody rampage with a big kitchen knife and offer no reason for their attack.

Nothing ever gets resolved except for the violence and the reminder that this could be a true story because every year in America there are over a million violent crimes reported. That certainly may be true, but for the filmmaker to exploit that data and come up with such an unpleasant claustrophobic vehicle of entertainment only left me feeling exploited as this vile pretentious thriller never committed itself to being more than a rip-off scare flick and only succeeded in rubbing our noses in such crap.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”