You simply know you’re in trouble when one of these video titles begins with that age old “inspired by disturbing true events” line. As I watched the film, I couldn’t find anything even remotely based on a true case. I dug deeper and found an obscure remark from writer and director Bryan Bertino that explains he was inspired by the events of the Charlie Manson murders of the 1960’s. You’ve got to be kidding me. There isn’t anything about this film that reminds me of those famous killings. If you say so, Bryan. The film is closer to the recent film Vacancy than anything else I could find. Like that film, we have a troubled couple suddenly pursued by a seemingly random act of violence.
James Hoyt (Speedman) and his girlfriend Kristen McKay (
The film is quite simple and doesn’t take a long time getting to the action. I was surprised that amid all of this menace and violence there is remarkably little gore here. The kills are very straightforward and relatively mundane. This does add a far larger realism element to the film, but it ultimately doesn’t produce a lot of scares. The proposal rejection, I assume, is an attempt to humanize the couple somewhat, but it doesn’t really do that in the end. The apparent randomness and lack of purpose of the killers renders anything we learn about the couple as irrelevant. That is the major flaw of the film. In the end it all plays out as so meaningless that I was left to ask the question: Why? Liv Tyler appears to have lost a step from her Lord Of The Rings days and isn’t all that convincing as a terrified victim here. I almost expect her to break out in a smile at any moment. The moody quiet character she starts with is relegated to nothing but reaction for the entire film. I guess this might be why we haven’t heard much from her lately. Scott Speedman is little better, never allowing us to get to know his character enough to really care. We never see the faces of the killers, so they are not even characters we can care at all about. By the time the film is over you’re going to feel like it was a tragic story you read in the papers or saw on the news rather than anything you actually experienced through the film.
The Strangers is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. For the most part this is a very dark film for obvious reasons. When there is light, it is a very unnatural yellow tint that takes away much of the realism here. I fault these choices because this is a film that looks far more true to life than a typical maniac on the loose effort. More natural lighting would have gone much further in maintaining that atmosphere. The image quality is pretty much fair straight down the line. Black levels are average, which tends to hurt a dark film. I didn’t get a lot of sense of shadow detail or depth. Flesh tones are too yellow, again the artistic choice here. The print is in fine shape and I did not witness any compression problems.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is often wasted here. With all of that banging and smashing there was a lot of opportunity to create an extensive sound field here. I do understand that they were shooting for a more claustrophobic nature, here but I think that could have still been achieved with a more aggressive mix. Dialog is at times a little too soft. The characters at first talk almost in whispers and do not articulate particularly well. Once the action ratchets up it’s all plenty easy to hear, but we’re talking mostly screams. There is very little dialog once the film gets going.
Deleted Scenes: There are 2 scenes for a total of 5 minutes. In one Kristen explains why she said no.
The Elements Of Terror: In this 9 minute feature the crew tries to explain why this is a terror film and not a horror film. Got it.
I was too often reminded of Vacancy while watching this film, and it does not compare favorably to that effort. It just doesn’t seem like this film offers anything new at all. That would be fine if it just entertained us a little. Sadly it doesn’t. The film starts nowhere and makes good time staying in the same place. Rent it, if you must, but there are better films out there this Halloween season. This is Bertino’s first feature film. We can only offer hope that “it’ll be easier next time”.