Halloween Review: The Strangers

This year’s Halloween Reviews move from the oldest, last week, to the most recent.

Title: The Strangers

Cast and Crew

Written and directed by Bryan Bertino

Liv Tyler as Kristen McKay
Scott Speedman as James Hoyt
Gemma Wards as Dollface
Kip Weeks as the Man in the Mask
Laura Margolis as Pin-Up Girl
Glenn Howerton as Mike

Available (soon) from Amazon


A young couple find themselves stalked, tormented, and attacked by killers who lack motive.

High Point

The film creates a spooky mood through the use of light and sound, and avoids the excess and gore so common in the genre today. We need more horror directors who want to scare us, not gross us out.

Low Point

This 2008 film purports to be based on a true story. In fact, writer/director Bryan Bertino once had an unidentified caller come to his door at night. Then the caller left. That’s the true story. Others have noted loose similarities between the film and such events as the Tate/LaBianca murders and the Cabin 28 Keddie killings. In short, the Strangers bests The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (reviewed in two weeks) for torture and abuse of the phrase “True Story.”

But that’s not the low point. The low point is that the claim of truth becomes an excuse to tell an incomplete story, with key details (such as how the attackers gain access to the house at certain points, and why they’re doing most of what they do) left unexplained. Hey, it’s a true story, reconstructed from a crime scene. How should we know what happened?

The Review

Originality: 2/6 Bertino has crafted a passable suspense/horror film, strong on atmosphere and light on gore, but it’s not terribly original. You could almost play Bingo or a drinking game based on its use of “girl in scary house” clichés. Make sure that scenes where the audience sees a villain…. but the protagonist doesn’t! figure prominently on the card or in your rules.

Effects 4/6 The film lacks true special effects. It features some creative use of light, shadow, and—- in particular– sound.

Story 2/6 The characters find themselves under attack in an isolated home. The killers act without motive, occasionally doing things they arguably should not be able to do. Then some religious solicitors discover the aftermath, which the introduction already gave away.

The use of a false truth claim to allow for an incomplete story can work, if the tale has something else to tell us. Picnic at Hanging Rock made that work. Blair Witch used a similar false claim to raise viral marketing to an art form. This film offers nothing beyond its campfire tale, and that’s not enough to balance the flaws masquerading as unknown facts.

Acting 5/6. The film features a strong central performance from Liv Tyler.

Production 5/6 This film manages on a comparatively low budget.

Emotional Response 3/6 I saw this film for $2.00 at a second-run matinee. At that price, I did not feel cheated.

Overall 3/6.

In total, The Strangers receives 24/42.

Next Week:

Fiziko looks at The Frighteners