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Wayback Wednesday: The Strangers (2008)

The reason I don’t answer the door for ANYONE.

Oddly enough, I watched the stand-alone sequel The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018) long before I ever saw its predecessor The Strangers (2008). I enjoyed the sequel! It was a thrilling, heart-pounding and inventive slasher that spiced up the genre. Given that I liked the sequel so much I went into The Strangers expecting the same kind of stellar quality and exciting pace. Sadly though, what we have here is a surprisingly rare case of “the sequel was better than the original.” Everything that I liked and appreciated about The Strangers: Prey at Night is absent from this first movie. I had hoped that like Mamma Mia! (2008) and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018), this sequel that fans waited a decade for would be the perfect companion piece to the original movie. No such luck, reader. 

Credit: imdb.com / Universal Pictures

Inspired by true events, The Strangers tells the story of James and Kristen, a young couple staying at an isolated vacation home. When they return home one night they find themselves being terrorized by a group of masked assailants.

A lot of people compare the tone and style of this movie to the slashers of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mostly because it takes utterly horrific, realistic antagonists and places them in a setting we’re all too familiar with: our very homes. Despite whether you like The Strangers or not, or whether or not you’ve seen it, there’s no denying that the premise alone is hands down one of the most horrifying things imaginable. The idea that the Strangers choose James and Kristen at random simply “because they were home,” is chilling. It’s incredibly realistic, it’s terrifying to know that you could be their next random victim and what they do has literally happened to thousands of people. I may not walk into a ghost-infested house tomorrow (although I personally would love that) and I may not make a deal with a demon anytime soon (although I’m tempted). But it’s extremely plausible that tonight is the night maniacal murderers spy me entering my house and decide to terrorize and then murder me. CHILLING! The Strangers is a horror movie that relies on suspense, dread and foreboding rather than gore or monsters. The horror is very much atmospheric and made all the creepier by the familiarly mundane setting. The way writer / director Bryan Bertino builds suspense and fear is fantastic. 

I understand what The Strangers is trying to do in terms of tone but it’s much too long and repetitive. An hour and 16 minutes is already an exceptionally short run time but it honestly could’ve been even shorter. There’s maybe only about 50 minutes of scenes worth watching. It can at times be boring especially considering you barely get to see the villains, which is a choice some horror movies make that I strongly dislike. Most of The Strangers is just scenes of Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler looking around empty space and jumping at random noises which sounds exactly as exciting as it sounds. The Strangers isn’t bad, it’s just dull. 

In fact, I much prefer the sequel which is very exciting and has the same kind of thrills and suspense but a healthy amount of action as well. And more interesting characters. The initial relationship drama between James and Kristen, played by Speedman and Tyler respectively, is a lacklustre excuse for conflict. I understand that sympathy or interest needs to be built in these characters before we get to the murdering but the movie fails at getting me to care about these characters as anything more than bland characters. And what a tragic waste of the enormously talented Glenn Howerton! 

The Strangers is a divisive movie and for very good reason. Some praise its simplicity and low-key scares while others are more critical and (like myself) find it dull and slow-moving. I’m genuinely curious to hear what other hardcore horror fans think of this movie and what side of the divide they fall on. At the very least, what I can say is that The Strangers is a good starter movie for people who don’t like horror. Or who feel some type of way about explicit horror. If there’s one word to describe The Strangers it’s certainly “non-explicit.”

Have you seen The Strangers?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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