Retro-Review: New on BluRay from The Shout Factory; help me out and pick it up on DVD/BluRay here on Amazon!

THE STRANGERS (2008)

aka THE FACES
Directed by Bryan Bertino
Written by Bryan Bertino
Starring Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Glenn Howerton, Peter Clayton-Luce, Alex Fisher
Find out more about this film here!

While there are always those who disagree, I am one of the people that simply loved THE STRANGERS. I get why folks don’t like the film. It’s a nasty little number that provides very little resolution and retribution to the villains of the film. It also presents the viewer with the moral quandary of rooting for characters who aren’t necessarily worth rooting for. Despite all of this, Bryan Bertino’s film is a masterpiece in building nerve shredding tension with terrific sights and sounds.


The film opens with a disclaimer stating that there are millions of violent crimes committed every day and this is simply one of them. The broad statistic and harrowing detail that the real account of what happened the night of February 11th to Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) is still unknown. Text stating that this is inspired by true events, no matter if it is stretching the truth, always get me. Just the suggestion that what you are about to see if a true story adds a heft to the story. Yes, this pretty much states that what you are about to see if pure speculation, even if it is based on a true story, but there’s heft to a start-out leading the viewer to believe no one survived this night and THE STRANGERS makes good on that promise.

Speedman and Tyler are a young couple with problems, but Speedman’s James thinks that everything can be fixed with a wedding ring. We soon find out that wedding bells simply aren’t what Tyler’s Kristen is looking for and what was meant to be a secluded night in the middle of nowhere to celebrate an engagement has turned ass on end even before evil stuff starts happening. This is a ballsy move for Bertino to take, as it humanizes the two leads in a way that is not the usual squeaky clean puritans we often see starring in these horror films. By offering up characters with flaws, for me at least, this made the characters more real and more sympathetic. So while it doesn’t play into the fairy tale setup, it does make the characters feel less like pretty people in peril (as both Speedman and Tyler certainly are), and more so makes them people the audience can identify with because they have the same issues we have—namely doubt, shame, frustration, disillusionment, distrust, and maybe not a clear world view. These two are not people we aspire to be. They are us with all of our problems and when they are put in danger, we feel it all the more.


Speedman and Tyler do some of their best work in this film. Both actors are not the best in their craft, let’s admit it. But here they seem to be caught up in the intensity of the situation they find themselves in or at least, Bertino was able to provide ample motivation for them to reach these levels of fright. While I never really felt like rooting for either of these actors in any other film they’ve been in, here, I was all-in and rooting for them to survive.

Bertino does a fantastic job of establishing just how out of the way this house really is. Silent scenes of a surrounding darkness that feels endless. Empty swing sets and wooded areas give plenty of space for evil to lurk. The use of music, playing old blues songs on a rickety Victrola adds to these scenes as the antique method of music listening feels much more like the voices of ghosts as these bluesmen and women are surely long dead. The slowing down of the record player ups the ante during the tension filled scenes of pursuit once the killers do arrive. So there’s an abstract feel to these scenes where the adrenaline is pumping and the mind becomes less focused with the world around them and more focused on the immediate dangers. Add couple tilts with the camera, some shadowy corridors within the home, and a few masked killers lurking around and you have the setting that is right out of a nightmare. And that’s just what THE STRANGERS delivers. Sure some of these scenes are heavier on style rather than substance, but I’ll take this kind of atmosphere and mood over any shitty Blumhouse jump scare any old day.


And what about that ending? Yes, *** SPOILER *** the bad guys are never unmasked. The bad guys get away. The good are punished, even though they didn’t really do a lot to deserve it. The violence was completely random and thus giving a pretty nihilistic view of the world and how it shits on you for no apparent reason. But I kind of loved that. Too many times screenplays overwrite and attempt to add some kind of poeticism to movies. The killer is the victim’s long lost sister. The world in which the characters live in is no bigger than the cast that is shown on screen. But that’s not real. The film told us at the beginning it was based on real events. Someone had to be picked for this shitstorm of violence. Speedman and Tyler simply were home at the wrong time and thus, paid for it. Granted, there are some films that work with some sense of serendipity and some films that go the nihilistic route and simply wallow in the horror with no resolution when one has been earned by the audience for enduring it. But there is something about the stylistic way this was filmed, the pairing with the opening crawl, the music, and the simple effectiveness of the faceless characters that made me love that pitch black end. ***END SPOILERS***

The Shout Factory has tossed out this BluRay of THE STRANGERS just in time for the sequel to grace theaters. I have yet to see the sequel, but hope to rectify that soon. As is, it was fun revisiting this horrific night. This collector’s edition Blu comes with a new HD master of the theatrical cut taken from the 2K digital intermediate, “The Element of Terror” – Interviews with the cast and crew,
“Strangers at the Door” – Interviews with writer/director Bryan Bertino and the cast, deleted scenes, TV spots, theatrical trailer, a new HD master of the unrated cut taken from the 2K digital intermediate, a new “Defining Moments” – an interview with writer/director Bryan Bertino, a new “All The Right Moves” – An interview with actor Kip Weeks (Man in the Mask), A new “Brains and Brawn” – An interview with actress Laura Margolis (Pin Up Girl), A new “Deep Cuts” – An interview with editor Kevin Greutert, and a still gallery.




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