I finally found a job, which explains my momentary lapse in blog posts, but now everything is settled and such so hopefully I’ll be back with a vengeance. The other night I went to the movies for the first time in a few months and it was well worth it. The Strangers was a well crafted piece of horror-genre love, and I took to it immediately. The friend I saw the movie with was telling me about previous reviews he had read of the film, and said that one critic called it Funny Games without anything behind it. This exemplifies one of the huge problems I have with critics these days (other than the fact that barely anyone ever breaks down the formal and theoretical aspects of a film, and just gives their opinion with nothing to really back it up, other than the fact that they are published and you are not therefore you must listen!) most of them feel that if a film doesn’t have a political or social message then the movie has nothing to say at all. Well as I’m sure you all know, this is complete shit. What about a film that comments on the conventions and the overall make-up of it’s own genre? Films making a statement about film are just as important as films force-feeding you some convoluted left or right wing message, just look at Sunshine, as a film it was well made (even though the end was a horrible let down), but what it had to say about the present and future of cinema was pretty damn amazing!
The Strangers does indeed have a message, and that message is that horror movies aren’t old news yet. You haven’t seen everything that can be done. One of the main problems I have with the film is that it didn’t flesh out its ideas quite well enough. It was so close, but never reached the full potential that was hiding around every corner. One of the major problems I have with horror films is their use of music to tell you when to be scared. If a horror film is truly a good horror film, shouldn’t the audience feel fear when things are scary, not when the music swells up and tells you that it is scary, or even worse, when the music swells up and tells you when things are about to get scary. The sound in The Strangers was top notch, and other than a few of those previously described moments, I feel that this was one of the strongest parts of the film. Every door and window knock was loud and punctuating. The soundtrack, with great old warblers thrown in with some contemporary folk artists, fit the mood and the environment perfectly. Bryan Bertino even took a page out of Gaspar Noe’s book, and utilized gut wrenching noised over and over again to both annoy the viewer and also raise the tension level.
The other thing that made this movie was Bertino’s use of framing. About half way through the film you start to expect the masked terrorizers who pop up out of nowhere and linger in the shadows to be in every shot. And why is this you ask? It is because Bertino would often frame his characters from a distance, and using wide angle shots, give a lot of “empty space” to the frame. That empty space is the perfect habitat for a random “pop-up” to come and scare the shit out of you. Or better yet, to not show up, which in the end became even scarier, because you are sitting there wanting that empty space to be filled, wanting something to happen and when nothing did it drove you mad, but in the best way possible.
My only real issue with the film was the end, which I don’t want to discuss fully for the people who haven’t seen this film yet. If it was about 8 minutes shorter this film would have been almost perfect. Hell, I could have sat there fore three hours just watching the masked killers toy with the two main characters. It is obvious to see that Bertino has a deep fond love for this genre, (as evidenced by his use of the opening narration) and he knows what works and what doesn’t and tried his best to make a film that showed the genre its potential. If the remake, and obviously the original, Funny Games and The Strangers have shown horror filmmakers anything, its that torture-porn is out, and smart visceral horror films are in! I hope the trend continues.