Champagne. Rose petals. Candlelight. It was supposed to be a night of celebration for Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) at his family’s secluded vacation home. But after leaving a friend’s wedding reception and returning to the house, everything had collapsed for the happy couple. Then came a 4 a.m. knock on the door and a haunting voice asking – Is Tamara here?
In a film that really does live up to its hyped suspense adverts, The Strangers is a terrifying suspense thriller about a couple whose remote getaway becomes a place of terror when masked strangers invade and forces a confrontation that pushes a couple far beyond what they thought themselves capable of. Joining them in the night of fear are three masked visitors whose only objective is to terrorize the couple: Gemma Ward as Dollface, Kip Weeks as The Man in the Mask and Laura Margolis as Pin-Up Girl.
Also playing an unsuspecting pawn in the invaders’ game is the couple’s unfortunate friend Mike (Glenn Howarton), a well-intentioned buddy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For his inspiration, first-time director/writer Brian Bertino looked to real-life crimes where violence is often senseless and without motive and the premise of being under attack by people whose only mission was to harm without any possible gain.
The story for The Strangers unfolds over a period of several hours, beginning the night before the terrifying events. We meet a couple at the wedding of the young woman’s college friend. Exhausted and inebriated, Kristen and James leave the reception and return to the vacation home they are visiting. Shortly thereafter, they are visited and subsequently attacked by three masked intruders.
Pieces of Bertino’s script were based in the reality of a childhood memory where he once answered the door while his parents were out. At the door were people asking for somebody that didn’t live there. Bertino later found out that the people were knocking on doors in the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses. In The Strangers, the fact that someone is at home does not deter the people who’ve knocked on the front door; it’s the reverse.
In comparison to the grisly visual horror of the Saw and Hostel franchises where blood and human innards make up their bucket of blood ethos, The Strangers looks to frighten in the far more persuasive area of imagination. Bertino uses light and sound to build his palpable air of terror throughout as it slowly dawns upon the young couple that they have no apparent way out of this hell.
Bertino creates massive tension with offscreen sounds of running, clanking, dragging, and slammed doors, plus the weirdness of paper-mache masks, which the intruders never remove. “Why are they doing this?” Tyler frequently wails. “Because you were home,” comes the chilling reply. Top notch.