The Strangers (Bryan Bertino, 2008, USA)

A sleeper hit at the time of its release, The Strangers has since grown in stature to be considered the "definitive" home invasion film of the 20th Century. Clearly indebted to Michael Haneke's similarly nihilistic Funny Games (1997) as well as the French film Them (2006) (though supposedly Bryan Bertino's script predates the US release of Them), The Strangers brings the brutal home invasion film to an American setting. 

In this case, the film focuses on Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) - an all-American couple spending time at James' childhood home. We meet them in media res, with the couple having just returned from a friend's wedding reception where Kristen rejected James' wedding proposal. This sadness and tension provide the emotional undercurrent for the film and render our two protagonists as more than just cardboard cutouts. While the film is effectively a two-hander between Tyler and Speedman, Tyler's character receives the most screen time and provides the emotional core of the film - Speedman's character disappears for a significant portion of the film.

While it is certainly an overstatement to call The Strangers a masterpiece, it certainly set the tone for several horror films that follow. Bertino has a playfulness with the audience that could best be described as a puzzle game with the audience. In other words, we search the frame in an attempt to find something scary. This has been emulated so much that it has now become de rigueur in most horror films. Bertino's film is also commendable for not pulling any punches with its notoriously brutal finale - bleak even for the post-9/11 wave of grim American horror films. The Strangers is now a veritable franchise, having spawned a sequel, with another film supposedly in the works. It is a respectable revival of the home invasion genre.



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