Walking into The Strangers, I knew what I'd be getting: bleak, unrelenting creeps, with a certain grisly outcome. Somehow, I was still looking forward to it...and I wasn't disappointed.
Director Bryan Bertino has said in interviews that the "real" events the film is based on include a menacing stranger knocking on the door of his childhood home, the Manson murders and the unsolved killings at the Keddie Cabins in California. Put 'em together and you've got one awful night. But even without the real-life inspiration, the movie would work. It plays effectively on the universal fear of actually finding someone in your living room when you go out to check that weird noise.
There's been a lot of online chatter about the French film Them (2006) and the similarities between the two storylines. I haven't seen it yet, so can't weigh in. Since there are countless cases of simul-thought through the ages, though, let's not jump to conclusions.
Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman work well together. They are a mostly ordinary couple with ordinary problems that the viewer cares something about before the terror starts. The tormenters are frightening in their vagueness, and the masks are awesome. Just when you thought horror perps had put everything conceivable on their faces, The Strangers gives us something new and disturbing.
The ending, on the other hand, is not the best part of the film. I'm a firm believer in seeing-less-is-believing, and watching the detailed killing of our victims is anticlimactic. Imagining what was done would have been scarier. I like mystery better than evisceration.
Bertino has said that he originally hoped for a cold-weather release of the film, which would have worked even better for the chilly setting, but at least it didn't have to go up against the latest Harry Potter, as per its initial release date.
Overall, The Strangers is a very good watch. It's truly scary with the perfect it-could-happen-to-anyone premise. Where's my old nightlight?