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Bryan Bertino
Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Glenn Howerton
Writing Credits:
Bryan Bertino

Lock the door. Pretend you're safe.

Explore your worst fears imaginable with this shocking suspense thriller inspired by disturbing true events.

After a 4 a.m. knock at the door and a haunting voice, Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt's (Scott Speedman) remote getaway becomes a psychological night of terror as three masked strangers invade. Now they must go far beyond what they thought themselves capable of if they hope to survive.

Box Office:
$10 million.
Opening Weekend
$20.997 million on 2466 screens.
Domestic Gross
$52.534 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (Rated Version Only)
Supplements Subtitles:

88 min. (Unrated Version)
86 min. (Rated Version)
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 10/21/2008

• Two Deleted Scenes
• “The Elements of Terror” Featurette
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Strangers: Unrated (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 16, 2008)

Among 2008’s nominees for “Trailer That Least Accurately Represents Its Film”, we get The Strangers. Based on its ads, I thought it’d be a creepy supernatural horror film along the lines of The Ring. That wasn’t correct, as the movie instead went for real-life psychological tension more like Straw Dogs.

After they attend a wedding, Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and her boyfriend James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) stay at a remote home owned by his family. The romantic getaway James planned doesn’t go well, however. He proposes to Kristen but she declines his request and the evening takes a depressing turn.

The situation doesn’t improve as the night progresses. A strange girl knocks on the door and asks for someone named Tamara, and she later returns after James leaves to get cigarettes. Other foreboding incidents accompany her subsequent visit, and other folks join in as well. They pound on the doors and act in additional menacing ways to scare Kristen.

Eventually James comes back to the house, but matters don’t change for the better. The marauders indulge in a systematic plan of terror and harassment as the night progresses. We see all of their actions as we follow the impact on our protagonists.

All at once, Strangers offers a film that seems both understated and overstated. In the former realm, the movie really takes its sweet time to get anywhere. The plot develops quite slowly, especially when we note its abbreviated running time; for an 88-minute flick to progress at such a leisurely pace surprises me.

It also keeps things mum about its characters. We learn very little about Kristen and James, as we must infer much about their relationship. The flick tells us almost nothing about the pair and even fails to let us know why Kristen turned down James’ proposal. Perhaps this is just poor storytelling, but I actually think it’s an intentional attempt to make it easier for the audience to identify with the characters; the fewer specifics we see, the better we can put ourselves in their shoes.

And since the film touts its “inspired by true events” status, The Strangers clearly hopes to zap us with the notion that the terror could happen to any of us. That side of things works to a moderate degree, but the filmmakers mar the understated side of things with too many standard horror flick tactics. We get the usual musical stings to alert us to scares along with plenty of other predictable methods.

Even the film’s color palette warns us of danger from the very start. Our first glimpse of Kristen and James bathes them in the red glow of a stop light, an image that makes it look like they’re covered in blood. Many more visual choices of that sort emerge, all of which rob the movie of its impact. If The Strangers followed a more naturalistic bent, we’d more easily buy into its conceit. With all the obvious hints of horror from the get-go, the believability factor takes a plunge.

Let’s not ignore the crummy camerawork as well. I feel like a broken record in my frequent condemnation of jerky hand-held shots, but as long as so many modern filmmakers choose to use that style, I’ll gripe about it. Oh, I think the technique occasionally makes sense, but too many times, I feel that movies feature the method as a cheap way to create a semi-documentary ambience.

It rarely works, and it sure doesn’t succeed in The Strangers. From the start, the camerawork actively distracts us from the material, and that sense of annoyance never disappears. The shakycam elements bob and weave so much that it becomes tough to focus on the story and characters.

I’d love to know how much of The Strangers actually comes based on real events. “Not much” would be my guess, as the story provides too many “how the heck did that happen?” elements to ring true. Sure, they say that truth is stranger than fiction, but a lot of the flick simply doesn’t make a ton of sense or seem logical in real world parameters. We can suspend disbelief for this sort of story, but not when the filmmakers try to make us buy into its inherent truthfulness; that’s when the average viewer seems likely to call shenanigans.

In the end, though, the greatest flaw I find in The Strangers stems from the simple fact that it’s boring. The film moves at a snail’s pace and rarely seems to go anywhere. Even when something does occur, we don’t care. I suspect filmmakers like Hitchcock or a young Spielberg could’ve done something effective with this material, but the crew behind Strangers fail to imbue the project with any life.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus D

The Strangers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. If forced to evaluate the transfer in one word, “dark” would be the way to go.

This was a consistently dense image, though not in a bad way. Clearly the filmmakers wanted to give the flick a moody feel, and they succeeded. Blacks looked solid, and shadows were also effective. Granted, it could become tough to discern some of the action in low-light shots, but that appeared to be intentional. Overall, those elements worked fine within the flick’s design parameters.

Colors remained heavily restricted throughout the film. Reds and ambers dominated the image; you’d be hard-pressed to find many other hues. The image replicated these tones well. As with the blacks and shadows, they fit within the intended scope of the presentation.

Sharpness looked good. A few wide shots seemed a little soft, but those instances failed to create distractions. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement remained minimal. All of this made the transfer worth a “B+”.

While not a stellar sonic affair, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Strangers also seemed to merit a “B+”. The soundfield favored the expected creepy ambience and scary effects. Various elements were placed appropriately in the spectrum, and they meshed together well. The spectrum used the surrounds in a positive way, especially when the villains terrorized the leads. For the most part, the soundscape remained restrained, but the elements combined in a pretty engrossing and compelling manner.

Audio quality worked fine. Speech was consistently natural and concise, without edginess or other concerns. Music showed strong range and definition, as the score was vivid and bold. Effects also packed a good punch. Those elements displayed nice accuracy and power, especially during the smattering of loud bits. This wasn’t a stunning track, but it filled out the film well.

Don’t expect too many extras here. We do find both the theatrical “R”-rated and the unrated editions of the film. The longer version only extends the flick by two minutes, so don’t expect much from it. Since I never saw the theatrical cut, I can’t compare the two.

Two Deleted Scenes last a total of four minutes, 51 seconds. These include “James Reflects at the Bar” (2:38) and “Bathroom Discussion” (2:13). Both offer a little more character exposition. Neither proves particularly satisfying in that regard, though; don’t expect them to flesh out the roles very well.

A featurette called The Elements of Terror goes for nine minutes, 12 seconds. It provides comments from production designer John Kretschmer, director Bryan Bertino, executive producer Sonny Mallhi, production sound mixer Jeffrey Bloomer, key makeup and prosthetics Vincent Schicchi, stunt coordinator Cal Johnson, and actors Liv Tyler and Glenn Howerton. “Elements” covers a few areas like set design, audio, makeup, stunts and performances. It doesn’t provide a thorough take on these topics, but it looks at them in a satisfactory manner.

A few ads open the disc. We get clips for The Incredible Hulk, Blu-Ray Disc, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and The Incredible Hulk TV series. No trailer for Strangers appears here.

With its theoretically believable tale of terror, The Strangers could’ve thrown some real scares our way. Unfortunately, the film feels slow and padded; it might’ve worked better as an episode of a horror series rather than as a feature film. It also would’ve been more effective with a little more imagination and a lot fewer stock filmmaking techniques. The DVD provides very good picture and audio but it skimps on extras. Chalk up The Strangers as a dull disappointment.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5666 Stars Number of Votes: 30
4 3:
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