Friday, June 6, 2008

People Are Strange... When You're A Stranger

I’m not usually one for horror movies. I was never into them when I was a kid and my affinity for them has never grown. However, I was interested in seeing The Strangers because it looked like something really horrible; violent, vicious killings for no reason. I joked with a friend that I would rather be in the Saw movie than The Strangers because if all I had to do to escape was cut off my foot, then take the left one, please, it’s my bad foot anyway. But the random, senseless violence that plagues this country is far more terrifying to me than any ‘torture porn’ that’s been so chic lately. As a student of cinema, I’m reminded of the late Seventies when horror films such as Last House on the Left and Texas Chainsaw Massacre changed the tone of the genre from the monster/sci-fi movies of the Fifties and popular British vampire movies of the Sixties. While it seemed a sort of change was happening again in the past few years, I think a film like The Strangers taps into that similar vein. There is nothing supernatural or over the top, but a ‘based on true events’ story made in a classical horror fashion that ensures the film is well executed in its intentions.

The film stars Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a couple that spends a night at his family’s summer home and is terrified, tortured and killed by a trio of locals. There is not much else in the way of plot description, but the filmed is carefully paced and well edited to maximize the shock moments and exploit the suspense and audience’s fear. I don’t think many things are more toe-clenching and nail-biting than watching a loved one killed in front of you. Liv Tyler gets most of the heavy work and she is really good at being scared, screaming running and all that required stuff. But, by casting her, the movie is playing on the audience’s sympathies immediately since Liv is quite the ‘sweetheart’ and nobody wants to see Arwen the Elf killed off! Speedman is good his role as well, especially the first part of the movie, dealing with his feelings for Liv and later, when he is unable to adequately protect her. The movie does a great job of trying to paint him as an everyman, “we’re not going to be scared” and then showing him succumbing to his own fears and inadequacies, just like many of us would sure do. The movie was engaging throughout and there were moments of pure tension for me and I was all the more impressed that it was director Bryan Bertino’s first film.

I believe that certain types of movies attract certain type of audiences. And I knew this movie was different when the audience seemed to stop laughing and become truly anxious about the characters. Some of the overriding themes were lost on such an audience, like the senselessness of the violence (they wanted a reason) and the fate of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances (“Why didn’t he just shoot them?”). Speaking for myself, the film did succeed in tapping into a primal fear of the unknown, reinforcing stereotypes about rural residents and keeping me inside my urban dwellings for another six weeks of winter, at least. For seeing most horror movies that fail to horrify, The Strangers was terribly terrifying and terrific.

The Strangers directed by Bryan Bertino and starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman is playing in theatres everywhere.

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