After a botched marriage proposal at a friend’s wedding, a dejected James (Scott Speedman) and his confused girlfriend, Kristin (Liv Tyler), prepare for a long, quiet, and uncomfortable night at James’ father’s remote summer home. When a young girl knocks on the door and asks for someone named Tamara, the couple writes it off as a creepy-yet-inconsequential late night encounter. However, they soon find themselves besieged by a trio of mask-wearing pranksters whose twisted scare tactics ultimately lead to something much, much worse.
Bearing more than a few similarities to the aforementioned Them, as well as Michael Haneke’s brutal “Funny Games”, Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers is a quietly cool shocker, filled with gasp-out-loud moments, and white knuckle suspense. With only a handful of lines, the film’s terrifying trio of antagonists - “Pinup Girl” (Laura Margolis), “Dollface” (Gemma Ward), and “The Man in the Mask” (Kip Weeks) - generate scares through creepy movements, actions, and, occasionally, doing nothing more than standing absolutely still. It’s terror through pantomime, and extremely effective thanks to director Bertino’s use of light, shadow, and misdirection in lieu of blaring sound effects, “Saw”-like edits, and desperate musical stabs. The material is heightened by very solid performances by Tyler and Speedman, who create characters we actually care about rather than cardboard cutout cannon fodder for the masked assailants.
The film’s major misstep comes in the decision to use the tired “based on a true story” gimmick (it’s really only loosely based on an amalgam of different cases and the director’s own childhood experiences). The film opens with both a disclaimer and a pair of young boys discovering the aftermath of the events of the film, thus taking away our ability to root for the characters seeing as how we already know things don’t end well for them. Despite this, The Strangers is still a terrifying and unnerving little film, and, while a bit light on gore and visceral shocks, it more than compensates with smartly paced and expertly executed scares that make it one of the most effective American shockers in years.
Universal scares up a solid, 2:35.1 transfer of The Strangers that looks very good given the fact that much of the film’s action takes place in darkness, shadows, or in the relaxed and golden-hued lighting of the house. There are occasional moments of exceptional clarity (the flashbacks to the brightly lit wedding reception, and the few moments that occur in broad daylight), but, for the most part, the image is a touch soft and ethereal. It’s still a very nice image overall, but just lacks the overall depth and detail of the better HD transfers.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, on the other hand, is amongst the most effective and intense surround sound tracks I’ve heard, with pulverizing bass, disarmingly creepy and subtle surround effects, and chilling score. This is a film in which the audio goes from whisper quiet to an all out cacophony of screams, thumps, and shattering glass, but it’s all perfectly level and wonderfully articulated, and truly amplifies the tension seen onscreen.
The Strangers comes to Blu-ray with scant extras, headlined by a short featurette entitled The Elements of Terror (HD) which features interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, but isn’t much more than your standard EPK. A pair of deleted scenes (SD), and BD-Live functionality round out the bonus goodies. Universal dropped the ball, here.
The Strangers is a truly frightening and unnerving exercise in terror that will fry your nerves and probably have you think twice about answering your door after watching it. The Blu-ray sports a decent video presentation, but it’s the audio that’s the real star, here, as the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is simply amazing! It’s a bit of a bummer that Universal didn’t load up more extras on this BD, but that shouldn’t dissuade fans from adding this film to their collection.