Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Strangers (2008) - Bryan Bertino

You know when you've asked the girl you're head over heels in love with to marry you, only for her to say no, and then you both head off to your parents summer cabin in the middle of nowhere, which you've kitted out with champers and rose petals anyway, only to find that once you arrive there are three masked extras from Straw Dogs trying to kill you both? Well that's The Strangers.

This is my kind of horror film, it's the only type that scares me anymore. Being an atheist makes it hard to get all riled up by the devil taking a bow, and gore has never really been my thing. It's psychological horror that I find impossible to watch if I know I'm going to be alone at night. From the locals in Deliverance to the kids in Eden Lake, these are the people that scare me. Ordinary folk are far scarier than ghosts and all that gumpf. On top of that the worst scenario for me is the idea of someone being where I feel safest. After all what could be scarier than waking up to find someone just standing at the foot of the bed watching you?

Bryan Bertino is from the school of thought that sound design over actual gore is the way forward for horror. It's something that when used correctly can be as effective as anything you actually show on screen, from the original The Haunting all the way up to The Blair Witch Project it's been a cheap and easy way of getting people to watch a film through their fingers. So in The Strangers we get all kinds of sounds happening outside of our couples vision. Bertino also understands that having someone standing in the background unbeknownst to the poor sod about to get offed is damn creepy too. So for the most part this is an effectively disturbing modern take, on one of the oldest and best loved of all cinema genres. Torture porn this ain't.

The two leads (Scott Speedman & Liv Tyler) are good enough, they probably weren't expecting Oscar nods or anything like that, but both manage to do scared well enough. After all horror is a funny genre inasmuch as it's the most interactive (well maybe porn is more so, but lets leave that to one side for now). The viewer can easily find themselves far more involved with the main characters than is usual. It's almost impossible to not disagree with a choice made at some point during the course of the film. 'Don't go out there', 'Don't split up', 'Stay down and wait for help to arrive'. I'm sure everyone has found themselves shouting these sage words at the screen at least once in their life.

Bertino's directing style is fairly flat and doesn't draw attention to itself, he also wrote the script and manages to get his ideas up on the screen well. There are a few corny moments, crawling through the woods, answering doors that shouldn't be answered and a few other things. But all is forgiven since this is the guys debut feature, which just makes it all the more impressive. The Strangers isn't as good as Ils which is still the best of the latest bunch of modern 'fact based' horror ficks, but it's close. I wonder if The Strangers 2 will be any good? Highly unlikely considering just how bad horror sequels always are. But I can imagine I'll watch it purely because I was so impressed by this.

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