The Strange Strangers Movie

June 11, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Posted in movies | 13 Comments

Dollface: Could I have one?
Mormon Boy #1: Are you a sinner?
Dollface: Sometimes.
(Mormon Boy hands her a CHRISTIAN LIVING pamphlet.)

The Strangers
PJ Cinemas – June 11, 2008

Proceed with caution…

In order to provide any worthy review, a critic must be open and well-rounded enough to appreciate all genres of film. For the better part of my existence, I have been turned off by the horror genre, mostly because my first horror film experience was Carrie… when I was 7. A thoughtful babysitter brought it over and proceeded to watch this gruesome display in front of me and my 9 year old sister. The crucifixion scene alone was enough to scar me for life.

Including The Strangers is a whole-hearted attempt to round out the Orgconfuz cornucopia, as recently I have resided in Comedy-land. This was the first trailer for a horror movie I’ve seen in a long time that actually interested me. By comparison, the last of this genre that I saw and loved was the original Scream. No, I have not seen any of the Halloweens or Friday the 13ths or even the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. So if you’d like to take my reaction with a grain of salt, I don’t blame you. With these fresh unjaded eyes and open mind, I dove head first.

Inspired by actual events, this movie appeared to have a refreshing sense of realism (similar to that of the Savages, but in VERY different ways) where the viewer ponders “What would I do in that situation?” Not only from the perspective of the prey, but of the masked culprits of seemingly random violence. Everytime I hear the words “Inspired by” or “Based on true events”, I will always think of the Coen Brothers. Back in the day, this famous duo pulled a Milli Vanilli on everyone in the industry. During the opening of the comedic thriller Fargo, the Coens included the following statement:

THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.

Later, they confessed the movie to be totally fictional, but based on several real murders thrown together to make up one story. Still, the text is oddly similar to the opening of the Strangers, which is as follows:

“The film you are about to see is inspired by true events. According to the F.B.I. there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America each year. On the night of February 11, 2005 Kristen McKay and James Hoyt went to a friend’s wedding reception and returned to the Hoyt family’s summer home. The brutal events that took place there are still not entirely known.” (Plus, we could have done without the creepy voiceover. We can read… thank you very much.)

SPOILER WARNING: Turn back now if you want to see it anyway, the proceeding is for those who have already seen it or just don’t care. If you really need the star rating, scroll down fast. lol

I am most confused about the opening of the film, so that’s where I’ll begin. There is an 911 emergency call recording playing over two boys who discover the scene of a horrific crime. A woman in clear danger calls out for help and states her name as Jordan or something Jordan. As so often with these movies, the default reaction is to assume that the film is employing some sort of foreshadowing technique. Picking up details from this call, my mind was preparing for the events to play out as described in the call. However, as the film does play out, all possible phone connections are destroyed, including an old CB radio. Therefore, what was that at the beginning of the film? It has been debated that the recording merely serves as one of the phone calls setting the mood for random intrusion and gory senseless violence that will occur. Others have purported that the recording is in fact not a voiceover and was actually playing at the scene on the record player when the victims are discovered. I can’t decide. Through my research, I have found only that I am not alone in this confusion.

The premise is simple: Young couple retreats to boy’s summer home after a wedding reception and rejected proposal. They proceed to be harrassed and attacked by masked assailants. Lots of peek-a-boo editing aka now you see me, now you don’t, aid in the suspense of the plot. Even the director is quoted as believing this movie to be more of a thriller, because a lot of the focus remains on the psychological aspects of the characters. Toying with their prey, the three masked psychos are clearly proficient in their craft. In the end, the killers reveal their faces only as a confirmation of the hostages impending death.

After all is said and done, Laurence Toppman explains it best in his review for the Charlotte Observer: When we’re finally set for a revelation, they find out why this happened to them: “You were home.” The line so casually placed in the eerie trailer turns out to be the sole point of the film. Maybe Bertino thinks he’s making a comment about the randomness of violence in society. But in this context, when he purports to explain events surrounding a tragedy “based on real life,” his refusal to provide further explanation looks like sheer laziness. (It turns out there never were such people, anyhow.)

At this point, I’d like to say that I really could have done without the ending. The interaction between the killers and the boys not only ruined the events of the night, it just was outright cheesy. The slow breaking truck. The slow turn of the three characters heads at the same time. The girl getting out and asking for a born-again christian pamphlet, which can only be described as an “Alanis ironic moment”. Then to top it off, the (mother figure?) Pin-Up Girl says “Don’t worry. It’ll be easier next time.” U-g-h.

On another note, are we actually supposed to believe that James’ parents only own country records, or only a record player for that matter? True, it was used as a clever device for scare tactics (and possibly part of the killer’s M.O. based on where you stand on the opening sequence.) Nevertheless, I found that one of the main songs used entitled “The Sprout and the Bean” was actually composed by Joanna Newsom. I had heard of her as one of the top NPR or WFUV new artists of last or the previous year. Hold the phone! I’m supposed to believe that not only do the Hoyt’s have a record player and all country records, but that they sought out a fairly recent artist and purchased her album… on vinyl?? Yeah right!

Interview with The Strangers director Bryan Bertino at The Filmmaker’s Bible. The interview is a little tough to read, seeing as the translator puts every “uh, you know” in. Interesting story on how Bertino went from being a grip to directing a major motion picture. Kudos to him for living the Hollywood dream!

While scouring through Google Images for scenes from the film, I came across a couple that puzzled me. Those who know the film know that the image above is actually a fake-out. We know that Man in the Mask (love how they don’t even have names!) should be coming up behind Mike, the unfortunate but dead friend. Here, we have James (Scott Speedman of Felicity fame, who in my opinion tries a little too hard to be “a normal dude” when he is clearly got the slick surfer boy thang happening). There’s another fake-out image out there of Kristen (Liv Tyler) crawling away from Pin-up Girl, which is CLEARLY photoshopped due to the fact that they both should be coming from the shed, not the house. Would it have been such a spoiler to show her coming from the shed? Weird…

A Positive Review from bloody-disgusting.com

Another not so positive review by Cinema Attraction ending in “Damn, glad that shit was free.”

Most of the reviews I researched on this movie are quite scathing, but I think I’ll have to agree with them. I was also fortunate enough to see this movie for free, saving me the agony of defeat. Another positive note for me was the film’s running time of 80 minutes, which felt surprisingly short by the end. But if the best thing one can say about a film was that it was short… hmmm. lol

RATING: **/5 (My first 2!)
Recommendation: I can’t in good conscience say that this movie sucked, because it didn’t. I just wouldn’t recommend it.

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13 Comments »

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  1. *SPOILERS*

    I have to admit: This film was disturbing. I saw it on the opening day, and there was only like 10 other people in the theater. Two people left by the time it played through.

    But that line “Because you were home” is one of the most chilling lines Ive heard a villain say. It just shows that they were just doing it out of bloodlust. And that opening….. One of the most nerve racking openings since 1996’s Eye For An Eye.

    Also recommended: Funny Games (1997)

    Cant wait for the next review 🙂

    FangoChris

  2. I too didn’t get what the phone call was supposed to represent. Perhaps it was the phone call of a future victim.

    I can’t say I “liked” the film in the sense that it was a thriller and therefore the experience was intentionally unpleasant. But it did succeed for the most part on those merits – it was suspenseful to a high degree. More sustained suspense than scares.

    The whole “based on true events” was unneeded and cheesily presented and distracted from the quality of the film. Luckily it was only 30 seconds. Did I mention, it was also false? The only trueness it was based on is that some people have in the past been murdered mysteriously.

    I thought the characterization was good. Ample time was spent showing the couple as two realistic human beings with real chemistry. Thus making us care that much more for them in their perilous situation.

    Horror movies often rely on the stupidity of the characters and this was thankfully minimized here.

    I did like the ending with the truck and the kids though, it was creepy and suspenseful.

    Ultimately, I tend to only enjoy horror/thriller movies with something to catch my interest besides just the same old crazy killer chasing stupid prey, or the torture/gore porn variety. I liked Scream for the way it played with the classic horror tropes and had genre aware characters. I liked the Ring for it’s unique method of doom, the well thought out backstory, the mystery, and the pure creepiness of the girl crawling out of the tv. This story was well played, but nothing set it apart as special. It was a well done story, but still, it was the same old story.

  3. I’m just sick of these directors making false statements about the movies they make. If it’s not a true story, then it’s not! Why say that it is? That’s so stupid to me. As if it’s going to make sense to people cause it’s “labeled a true story”. Come on, we know Hollywood extremely dramatizes stories even when they are true. So what made Bertino think he could get this one by us and it is false??? It’s just ridiculous to waste someone’s time, money and mental energy like that. You have those who like fiction and those who like fact. So the one’s who like fact and are tired of the corny, fake, unnecessary gruesome flicks, of course are going to run out to see a film that is stated to be true. Than to find out it’s not and you just spent sometime trying to figure out who, what, why, how, when it shoulda and coulda been stated as fiction so you really wouldn’t of cared and just went home and called it a night. As if there really aren’t any fact based stories out here in this crazy world. Stop being lazy and do your research “directors”!

  4. this movie is based on true events that took place in a little town in kansas the names where changed for my aunts protection she is the only survivor she moved out of kansas over fear that she did not look at their faces because she refused to. hoping they would not kill them.she totally lost it she know resides in a mental hospital. please if you dont have nothing nice to say.atleast respect the dead.took place on feb,11,2005.

  5. Unfortunately, what the last commenter failed to see is that this review has nothing to do with disrespecting the dead. It merely takes into account a personal reaction to the story and the way the director choose to depict it. If the story is true and was misrepresented, then the filmmaker would ultimately be responsible for the disrespectful portrayal.

    Condolences to your aunt on this horrifying experience… however, if she was sensitive to this review, she shouldn’t have sold the movie rights.

  6. Hi everyone! 😀
    Im new to orgconfuz.wordpress.com.
    I hope I can be a regular here!

  7. Um, have you ever heard of boys having high voices? the voice at the beginning was NOT a woman, but a young boy, one of the two Mormon boys. And there are multiple ways the two of them could’ve called the police, maybe a nearby phone booth. (They have those out in the middle of nowhere sometimes, incase there’s an emergency) or maybe they had a cell phone. Or maybe, when the power to the house came back on, the phone lines came back on too. Just suggesting ways it COULD’VE happened instead of rambling on about how it didn’t make any sense. And since you never watch scary movies, you wouldn’t know that about 90% of them are cheesy. This movie had one cheesy scene and you’re all on it. Also, the whole peek-a-boo stuff, it was all from the stalkers view. When they were both being killed at the end, Kristen still had no idea she had been stared at for a full minute! It makes the viewer think, “If I turn around will there be someone behind me? . . . and if I don’t turn around will there STILL be someone behind me?” it gives you that scary feeling no matter where you are. Personally i found this movie disturbing. My family has had a stalker and we live away from everything else. We’ve experienced the knocking, the harassing and I’ve discovered that for the bad guy, it’s not always about the blood, it’s about the pleasure of freaking the shit out of people. So for me personally I thought this movie was very realistic. Good job Bertino!

    • I totally agree with you. I’ve had a stalker myself, one who randomly showed up in the driveway and called me saying, “I’m here.” I completely relate to the authenticity of the film, and agree with your positive review. After I saw this movie, I began taking my cell with me EVERYWHERE and looking over my shoulder often. Yes, there’s a growing number of psychofreaks out there who will torture you for fun, not because they want you to die. Excellent movie, and excellent portrayal of characters.

      *Note: this movie WAS based on true events. The scenes where a diversion was created so the guy could get in the house and the scenes where words were written on the windows from the inside were taken from the Tate-LaBianca murders that Charles Manson and his cult committed. Manson’s cronies were infamous for writing things on kitchen appliances and walls with the victims’ blood. The only way Bertino could have made this movie more authentic was by showing the Strangers painting words (Because you were home, maybe?) on a wall with blood and letting the kids find it.

      Anybody ready for the sequel?

  8. Oh and as for how they could have called, they either had a mobile or a phone booth somewhere down the road. Or its a movie plothole, who cares. But jesus christ, couldnt you have made the connection it was the boys who called?

  9. Everything negative you say about the movie is completely irrelevant. Who cares if the purchase new artists on vinyl?! I mean come on O.o

    • @ben – it is my right as a reviewer to point out inconsistencies in either plot or production details that negatively affect my perception of the movie and the experience of it. it is also your right not to care. To each our own. 😀

  10. You can point out inconsistencies, but please leave out the shit that OBVIOUSLY isn’t going to be noticed while I’m watching the movie. The fact that you recognized this obscure artist says to me you’re just overly sensitive to things that ruin the movie for you. Just sit back and enjoy the movie. It drives me insane when I watch a movie with someone and they have to ruin the atmosphere by bringing up some moot point that has NOTHING to do with what’s going on.

    • Just something I noticed, Adam. That’s all. Glad we didn’t watch it together then 😉


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