There are a few flaws in this otherwise successful film that is in fact as frightening as the trailer makes it out to be. Not being one for the constant barrage of thriller films (the 'Saw' Series, the endless vampire variations, 'I know what you did...', etc) this viewer hesitantly watched what could have been yet another exercise in blood and gore. But surprise! The story (based on a true incident in 2005 as outlined by an off camera narrator discussing the number of violent deaths in America each year before the film opens) is tight, credible, and deals more with the emotion of terror of the unknown than images of gore. Kudos to writer/director Bryan Bertino for finding the core of the macabre. And it is true!
James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) is driving his girlfriend Kristen MacKay (Liv Tyler) to the isolated summer home in the woods that James and his best friend Mike (Glenn Howerton) had earlier decorated with rose petals, candles and champagne in preparation for what was supposed to be a celebration of a marriage proposal. Sadness prevails in the car as Kristen has turned James' proposal down. They quietly enter the decorated house, and almost immediately begin to hear sounds outside and a door knock by a young girl apparently looking for a person not living in this house. Kristen asks James to go out and get her cigarettes and the creepy action begins. Three strangers each in masks terrify Kristen with noises, secretly entering the house, and creating a tense atmosphere until James returns. At this point the story becomes an almost unbearable sequence of events: it is clear the strangers are out to murder James and Kristen. Bound and beaten by the three strangers Kristen asks 'Why us? Why do you want to kill us?' and the simple answer from of the strangers is 'Because you're home'. The ending of the film could have been better handled by someone telling us the results of the night - the follow up to this true story. But instead Bertino elects to keep the level of terror high.
Peter Sova (cinematographer) finds the right amount of shadow and dark to keep us guessing and the musical score by tomandandy is pitch perfect. This is a fine little film, but be prepared to jump in a few spots...and keep the lights on! Grady Harp, November 08