When I have more time, I may do an extended essay on Bryan Bertino's The Strangers as a metaphor for marriage. From the moment Liv Tyler puts on that engagement ring--which, I might add, she cannot remove--things go horribly wrong, and she and her significant other die a slow and painful death. The man (Scott Speedman) isn't even allowed to have friends anymore. What's up with that?
Suffice to say, if you want to see a freakin' scary movie, then you should go see The Strangers. I was so tense watching this movie, at one point in the climax, I thought I was going to vomit. Not from blood or guts, either, but just from having my stomach tied in knots for 90 minutes. I don't understand the criticism that has equated this movie to torture porn, actually, because though the violence is swift and precise, it is not overly gory. There is decidedly little blood, and Bertino regularly knocks his camera away when the worst of the action is about to happen.
I'm also at a loss over the charges that The Strangers is plotless. There is a plot there, it's just not needlessly complicated. The lack of an overly detailed set up or a convoluted explanation is part of the point, that these things don't happen for a reason, that people are just sick and bad and they get off on cheap thrills. Unlike Michael Haneke in, I guess, either version of Funny Games (I've only seen the German original), Bertino doesn't feel like he has to bring the proceedings to a screeching halt or play any tricks with the fourth wall to make sure that we know that he knows that we know that he's making a comment on the cruel downside of voyeurism. Outside of the opening voiceover about the movie being based on "true events," first-time writer/director Bertino lets the story do the talking. And since that claim is apparently a fake-out a la Fargo, he really could have done without it. Horror movies carry their own message: I'm locked in a dark room experiencing all manner of unspeakable acts and enjoying myself doing so. I'm not desensitized; on the contrary, my senses are alive.
I've had this theory that horror movies make armchair quarterbacks out of us all. People love to be smarter than the characters in the movie. You know the type, who always leave a flick like The Strangers and say, "Well, I would have ran out the back" or "I would have grabbed something heavy instead of just standing their screaming." Grant yourself an honest moment, though, and admit it. You'd be even stupider than the people in the movie. We all like to think we'd rise to the occasion, but unless these very unreal things were truly happening to us, we don't know for sure we wouldn't just sink into a puddle of our own tears and piss.
Well, the best thing I can say about The Strangers is I never felt like I was smarter than the targeted couple. I never saw a better way out, I never fell out of the mood. The masked killers were genuinely creepy, and the movie delivered several real jolts to my system. We had a fun Sunday matinee audience that wasn't afraid to be afraid, and I must say, having some actual exclamations of fright really does help get one into the experience, the way a good, laughing audience can help a funny movie be even funnier. Good audio also helped. Bertino only sparsely used music, choosing his moments wisely for the most effect. Even better, though, he used mixing to his advantage and had his sound effects move between different speakers to achieve maximum scariness.
I'm down with whatever Bryan Bertino makes next. I put this one in the same category of Vacancy or The Orphanage, movies that did exactly what I wanted them to do, telling a story and putting me on the edge of my seat for an hour and a half. I'd gladly climb out onto that edge with this filmmaker again.
Current Soundtrack: The Horrors, Strange House
Current Mood: scared
e-mail = golightly at confessions123.com * Criterion Confessions * Live Journal Syndication * My Corporate-Owned Space * ComicSpace * Last FM * GoodReads * The Blog Roll * DVDTalk reviews * My Books On Amazon
All text (c) 2008 Jamie S. Rich