Baghead and his Dollfaces play with Liv Tyler.

August 17, 2008 at 7:17 am (movies) (, , )

The Strangers just came out here. It was pretty good. I’d kinda like to see it again with an audience that enjoyed it more and reacted more to see if it scares me even more under those circumstances, but there are other things to see and I’ve only gone to The Dark Knight once, so priorities, you know?

This movie, I feel, sorta mixed supernatural horror and serial killer horror. Not in a Nightmare On Elm Street way, but by having Them [the strangers] seemingly omniscient. Like, They seemed to know exactly where the couple were all the time, everything they were doing and everything they would do. Liv goes to open the curtains, He knew she would since he’s staring back at her [also the single scariest moment in the film, IMO]. Scott goes to the barn, She knew he would because She’s standing outside [I also think she knew where he was and was just tricking]. This kind of thing happened over and over. At times They seemed to have the ability to superspeed or turn invisible too, what with the vanishing when they turn around act. Many slasher flicks do have the killer do this kind of thing a little, but only to the point where it feels like the protagonists are just unlucky. This took it to extremes.

I suppose what the writer/director Bryan Bertino was trying to do here was to bring out people’s fears of someone being in the house with them, and then maximise on that as much as possible. He couldn’t outright show Them as being supernatural or it would lose any “This shit could happen to me,” power it had over anyone because people with superpowers don’t exist and so can’t attack us. By implying it, the movie keeps is just grounded in reality, but at the same time it takes the “The call is coming from inside the house,” type of fear and makes it our worst nightmare by making them seem unbeatable and in complete control of everything that’s going on.

Bertino is certainly walking the thin red line here, but by putting creepy masks on Them and having Them completely anonymous and lacking a motive besides entertaining themselves, it did work out IMO. Like, if he wants to make Them about as supernatural as They can be without it being more than subtext, he can’t then give them other aspects which will humanize them, right? It would lose the surreal aspect and end up just feeling plain ridiculous and like truly crappy writing/directing. Like Prom Night, where the killer also apparently could turn invisible or superspeed. We had already gotten a full and proper introduction to the killer, and got a few scenes following him around instead of the protagonists*. It didn’t help that other characters [and, at one point, bedroom decor – don’t ask] sometimes did the same thing, or that it genuinely was truly crappy writing/directing.

*That The Strangers didn’t do this added to the supernatural/surreal feeling. We rarely saw Them for long and until after the climax They never got a scene to Themselves, it was always Liv, Scott or their friend Mike. This put us in the protagonist’s shoes more, and it made it feel kind of like They were absolutely everywhere even if there were only three of them.

I was thinking this stuff while watching it. Try and imagine this kind of stuff running through your head in some random scene where They aren’t onscreen – They know exactly where they are, They know where they will be, They know what they’re doing and what they’re going to do, and They could also float onscreen at any moment and not be noticed. The only reason they aren’t dead yet is because They still want to play.

So in short, omniscient superpowered horror villains = paranoia = freaks me the fuck out.

After all that, I feel obliged to say that I don’t think this is the best movie ever or anything, and there were a couple of big flaws in it.

Although the characters were set up nicely for the first fifteen minutes, once things turned to shit [Him at the window, I reckon] that characterization was pretty much gone, moreso for Liv. This is a common problem for horror movies with attacks that last just several hours because they don’t get much of a break from being terrified and it’s hard to write a personality for someone in that state. Cloverfield, for example, is an exception to this problem. Liv on the other hand is the worst case I’ve ever seen in a main character in a movie that I still consider good.

On top of that, me and my friend both found her useless and annoying.

The couple were pretty goddamn stupid. Particually, they gave up the one time they had any upper ground at all – in the bedroom with the gun, what could They do even if They knew what they were doing? If they’d waited, eventually They would have had to leave, or someone passing by would have seen the smashed up cars and all that and called the police. Mike also joins the stupid club for not doing exactly that when something smashed his window. The only smart ones were Them.

This doesn’t really matter at all but I guess it is a negative point and so belongs here. I didn’t think the names Kristin and James really suited the couple, which is why they’re referred to here as Liv and Scott [the actor’s names] instead. Yep, unsuity names, a real deal breaker. After that I just can’t take this movie seriously.

Last but probably most importantly, this is a big Your Mileage May Vary. Some people find the masks creepy, but some found them to just look silly, which could easily ruin the movie. Some people got really pissed at the lack of motive, while others argued that was the point. Also, it probably has to do with how scary the idea of home invasion is to you.

I should really just say that if something happens like someone asking Bryan Bertino in an interview if They were supposed to be omniscient and he says no, I would be so pissed off, seeing as how that was the crux of my good review and all. I recognise the possbility that I am reading too much into this and the killers just had a much higher amount of luck than usual and a writer/director who kinda missed how implausible They were if they were supposed to be perfectly ordinary humans.

In the end, I think I’m going to give this a 7 out of 10, for scariness and that whole omniscient thing I enjoyed so much. That being said, I like it a lot more than many other things that I would give the same score to. Partially just because I like horror movies, but more importantly, most things that get that score are mediocre in most or all aspects, whereas this has big glaring flaws but some really cool stuff too, and in my mind it’s better to be great and sucky than to be average all round.  So I would recommend it, guys. At least for a DVD rental.

However, if I am completely wrong about the movie, it gets a 4. The direction was good, it delivered on scares, wasn’t cheap, and used the setting well. There were some cool ideas on little things to frighten us, like the completely silent scene from the poster or the use of the record. But apart from the problems I’ve already mentioned, it wouldn’t have any substance to it, so, 4.

Personally, even if WordOfGod disagrees, I’ll always go with the “omniscient,” interpretation if renting it out or anything, because that’s the one that scares me. But I’m reviewing Bertino’s version of the movie here, not mine, and so I’ll also have to change the review.

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