An unhappy couple returns to their vacation home after a failed proposal only to find that they have become the unfortunate victims of a home invasion lead by three crazed teens who plot to torture and kill them. THE STRANGERS belongs to a short-lived home invasion theme from the late 2000's, which included CACHE and THEM, along with the remakes of FUNNY GAMES and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. Bertino's slowly-driven suspense is very much reflective of the style of Michael Haneke, with a creeping terror that builds on the ambient sounds of the house and the extremely subtle score. Where it differs and becomes much more like the standard survivalist film is that it lacks any inner meaning and it offers no consequences for the villains' actions, turning it more into an exploitative Slasher. The suspicious similarities in style, structure, and pacing even border on plagiarism when looking at Moreau and Palud's French thriller THEM from two years prior. Leaving these issues aside, there are still many advances in mood and atmosphere that make THE STRANGERS a frightening viewing experience.
THE STRANGERS is a depressing movie that only grows more upsetting as the plot progresses. Bertino has selected a somber color palette that feels drained of life and emotion to match the joint melancholia expressed by the characters. His tight filming feels uncomfortably close; almost voyeuristic. We do not feel like we should be listening in on the couple's drama, but we can't turn away. As sudden knocks and taunts from outside begin to break the silence, the viewer lives out the characters' terrors first-hand thanks to Liv Tyler's convincing performance. We jump as she jumps, reacting to her fear and shock as if it were our own. Her emotions on screen are pure and raw, which elevate the integrity of the picture. Although there are several bloody scenes, THE STRANGERS relies on edge-of-your-seat suspense and not excessive gore. The chilling masks that the teens wear as they silently pass through the house send shivers down the spine.
While it has been criticized for its loose plotting and derivative style, THE STRANGERS achieves its desired effect, and creates a believable real-world scenario without hampering itself down in unnecessary minutiae.
If you liked THE STRANGERS, check out:
FUNNY GAMES, THEM, CACHE, WOLF CREEK, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS.