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.
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 s! houldering 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 favor 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