A lean, briskly paced and exceptionally creepy thriller, The Strangers
earns its scares the old-fashioned way: through atmosphere, sound design, and a simple yet undeniably upsetting central premise that allows for maximum tension throughout its running time. Attractive young lovers Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are already having a bad day--she's turned down his marriage proposal--before a knock on the door in the middle of the night announces a full-fledged siege on their remote vacation home by a trio of masked assailants. The film's first third delivers the most consistent shivers as the visitors make their presence and intentions known to Tyler; the second half grows more frantic and bloody before a gruesome finale that may leave viewers either rattled to their core or bothered by its empty nihilism. Speedman is fine as the downtrodden male lead (who's seen tucking into a carton of ice cream after being rejected), but it's Tyler who impresses the most by shouldering the lion's share of the terror. First-time writer/director Bryan Bertino impresses by forsaking the current passion for over-the-top violence (save for the finale) in favour of more traditional means of generating fear, and if his project borrows heavily from other films, most notably the French chiller Them
(which shares its "inspired by a true story" origin) and Michael Haneke's Funny Games
, at least he's taking from the best. The sound design is among the many technical standouts, and the unsettling score by tomandandy (The Hills Have Eyes
) pleasantly evokes Ennio Morricone's fuzztone-heavy work for Dario Argento in the early '70s. On a completely unrelated note, LP fanatics should appreciate how both the film's heroes and villains share an affinity for folk and country music on vinyl. --Paul Gaita
Horror film starring Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, marking the debut of writer/director Bryan Bertino. When young couple Kristen (Tyler) and James (Speedman) arrive at an isolated holiday home belonging to James' parents, they are looking forward to getting some much-needed rest after travelling back from a wedding reception. But terror awaits them when three masked strangers burst into the house in the middle of the night, turning their peaceful retreat into a living hell and forcing them to fight for their lives.