Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Strangers


So when Underworld co-star Kate Beckinsale got to make a horror/thriller with Vacancy while waiting for the green light on a possible Underworld pre/sequel, Scott Speedman too had to do something equivalent, and so got himself signed up with The Strangers, written and directed by Bryan Bertino, which takes a fictional look at what it purports to be based on true events with regards to the senseless acts of violence committed against James Hoyt (Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler).

Whether it be real or not, it takes its time to tell you that more than 1.4 million violent crimes happen on average in the USA, which of course works out to be... hell a lot. And it puts this at the back of your mind that it could happen to just about anyone, which after watching the movie, you'd more or less agree, given its less than sophisticated means of attack. Ss with all horror movies coming out of Tinseltown these days, it's the usual in-your-face slasher flicks / torture porn that get made, going one up against each other through being creative with weapons, blood and gore. Here it kept things simple, using common household tools against you.

It's a movie without a lot of dialogue between the characters, given that the assailants do not speak with one another, or lapse into the usual monologue with their victims. They do what they need to do quickly when the time calls for it, otherwise their theatrics allow the filmmakers to max out the surround sound system in the theatre with plenty of running about, throwing of stuff against doors/windows, together with testing out their light and shadow play thoroughly. And technically, you've got to tip your hat towards its flawless execution (pardon the pun).

The backstory to the characters of Kristen and James show us that while they are a loving couple, James' premature proposal to Kristen, and her rejection, put them in an awkward situation where he had plenty of yes-I-do aftermath activities planned out, such as a night at his parent's summer home, and a road trip thereafter, all thrown into disarray. They still reach that home away from home, but are not really communicating with each other. And with observed weakness comes opportunity for the perpetrators to complete their surveillance, and launch their systematic attack.

Which for the first hour, it almost became the Liv Tyler show, as she single-handedly holds your attention with her frantic looks and powerful lungs, while trying to wish it all away as a bad dream. Bryan Bertino succeeds in driving through the tension, suspense and fear of having unknown strangers in an unfamiliar home, and at 4am in the morning with their constant knocking and mischievous, deadly pranks, can really take its toil on you. There are loopholes of course in this story, such as failure to hold ground, and to never, ever split up, but I guess these folks never learn from the many horror movies that preceded it.

So when it went into its final 20 odd minutes, you can sense a feeling of dread, both for the characters, and the rather repetitive run-hide-seek continuum. Like Michael Haneke's Funny Games, there never is a rationale shared with the audience even though they continuously dish out violence, and while Haneke's villains were rather chatty, the ones here never bother to talk any more than they should, and coupled with their childish masks, make them a bit more terrifying when they come out of the dark.

Not a masterpiece, and surely less intellectual than Funny Games, but definitely has its moments, and managed to send some chills down unsuspecting spines, like that row of punks sitting on the same row as me and actually squirmed at their seats.

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