Because you were home: The Strangers (2008)

“Because you were home”
Home invasions scare the hell out of me. I’m not talking about the “Desperate Hours” type home invasion, though that would be unsettling, I’m talking about the Charles Manson type home invasion. When the invasion is not simply a means to an end, but a premeditated plan of psychological and physical torture, followed by a ritualistic bloodbath, that’s what scares me.
Very few people in the grand scheme of things are taken hostage in their home as a plan of action. However, the chances of your house being targeted at random are much greater and more terrifying. You can reason with someone who wants something material, you can’t reason with someone that only wants blood. The Strangers tells a story of randomness that chills to the bone.
The film opens with the aftermath of a brutal home invasion. Blood on the walls, bloody kitchen knives, and a shotgun lay about.  After a frantic 911 call by a couple of young Mormon boys, we cut to Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman who play Kristin McKay and James Hoyt, sitting in a car. They are dressed formally and Liv is in tears. James grabs a stack of mail from the box and drives to the dark house lit only by porch light. Questions questions questions. We soon learn that James has proposed to Kristin at their friends wedding reception and dressed the parent’s vacation home for a romantic celebration, one problem, she said no.
After a really uncomfortable settling in period, (she takes a bath and reflects, he calls and leaves a message with his buddy Mike to come pick him up), they come together and Kristin attempts to serve James up a plate of guilt ridden sex. That doesn’t work out well either. Poor James is interrupted by a loud knock at the door. The porch light is now off.
“Is Tamara home?” a shadowed young blonde woman asks.
They tell her she has the wrong house and she leaves with the ominous words “See you later”
OK time to go. I’m sorry, but the porch light was on and now the bulb is unscrewed. The creepy girl who probably did it says that she’ll see me later and we’re out in the middle of nowhere in a home that is empty most of the time. I’m totally creeped out now.
Now that the moment is ruined, Kristin needs a smoke, but she’s almost out. James offers to go get some since he’s in the mood to drive anyway. Then the madness really starts.
The blonde returns and asks the same question. Kristin says that she’s already been there, and locks the door. The games begin. The blonde returns in a doll mask along with a hooded man. The strangers come and go as they please, stealing items and causing havoc, escalating the terror with every moment. By the time James returns, Kristin is bleeding and hysterical. James decides to retrieve his phone from the car only to find the car smashed. He grabs Kristin and tries to escape. They are rammed by a large pickup driven by a girl in a pin up mask. There is no escape. I don’t want to go into any more detail because it is a movie that needs to be experienced.
This film wrenches it up a notch with every attack, keeping you on the edge of your seat. Truths are reveled, which seem trivial but definitely add to the honesty of the characters. There are some serious emotional shocks and visceral scares that I won’t spoil.
What I find scary is that it is real. They are a real couple with real problems, there are guns in the house but that doesn’t make James into Rambo. Revelations don’t bring on an argument to temporarily separate the characters as they do in so many films because quite honestly it doesn’t matter. Maybe tomorrow it will, but not tonight. I feel that you can’t be truly horrified if you don’t care about the characters. This film takes the time to get to know our protagonists in a truly intimate way before the horror starts, so that we care what happens.
The music and sound effects are always front role in a horror film but in this case they are a co-star. From dirt clods, and smoke alarms, to door banging and the creaking of footsteps every noise is a jump inducing surprise. I think what’s most scary is that like David Lynch, director Bryan Bertino manages to create a truly realistic home that we could all not only see ourselves living in but long to live in, and make it the most unsettling place of all.
But what about the Strangers, well I know I’m gonna get shit for this but they are the scariest horror villains created in decades. The Man in the Mask, Pin up Girl and especially Doll Face are scary because they have no motivations that we can understand. There is no excuse for their actions, not revenge or money or theft, the only reason given is quite simply “Because you were home”
This is not a party film but a film for a couple or two with the lights down low and the speakers way up, and god help your nerves if you live in a secluded area.

One response to “Because you were home: The Strangers (2008)

  1. This was an amazing movie. However, I really didn't care for the ending. So much had been done with intimation and subtlety up until that point in the film that it seemed…over done. I'm usually not picky about that sort of thing, but for some reason in this instance it really disappointed me. I'm hesitant to go any further because I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
    Everything until the end though was on par with the first Halloween movie in terms of sheer level of fear and nail-biting dread. I usually don't talk to the movie, but I found myself yelling at the screen several times because the tension was just too much.

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