I was one of the lucky ones. I was one of the few that walked into The Strangers with no real expectations and no real concept of the plot (besides “vaguely Scarecrow-like guy attacks couple”). I ended up liking it a great deal more than my friends and most of the reviewers and chewers whose reactions I’ve read. The consensus seems to hover somewhere between ‘okay’ and ‘Good, but disappointing’ which I would classify as a ‘Meh +.’ I think most everyone is right – for the wrong reason.
The Strangers is an excellently crafted movie and I don’t think anyone has really questioned that. The opening act takes the typical please-care-about-these-characters set-up and does it incredibly well. This is a trend throughout, employing traditional principles in a unique or novel way (unoriginal originality?). It follows through with the tension, creating what amounts to a monster movie with omniscient villains that most certainly fall into the ninja serial killer school. The killers do have some great details between the oddly vague family dynamic, the well-done masks, minor quirks like the fathers breathing, and the flashes of brutality (that front door/piano did not have a good day).
The movie does have it’s flaws from the beginning of course. Even if it does it with originality -the film still sometimes falls victim to typical horror structure in a way that hurts the movie. Once the shit begins, there is an entirely self-defeating and useless 10 minute sequence with a lot of Liv-crawling. Little gaffs and bad bits pepper throughout, and then the biggie… the end.
We come to our inevitable scene with our victims and villains face-to-face and this is were the movie manages to both fail and succeed in equal measure. I paired my look at The Strangers with my look at Funny Games because of the ten-minute sequence from “You were home…” and the Mormon kids re-entrance. During this sequence our killers stare for a moment, remove their masks, and coldly kill their victims. Here, like Funny Games, the movie does something very interesting, it turns off for a moment. Unfortunately, unlike Funny Games, it doesn’t commit. The scene is not as cold as it could and (in my humble… see the blog title) should be. The way the removal of the masks is handled is perfection, and from here till the end of the movie the way these characters are shot is beautiful. The camera and edit gracefully avoid showing us clear views of any of their faces without actually feeling forced or restricted. The murder is the problem. The idea of it is excellent – the “movie” ends, the monsters remove their masks to become just people, they un-cinematically murder their victims like they always intended, and they leave. The scene doesn’t fail, but the impact is lost because of the masturbatory way they slice and dice the poor couple. Really, it’s all fine save for the one or two shots where there is actually passion and sick pleasure in the knifing. Then we go to the ending with the kids (meh/okay) and the final shot (so bad I’m not even going to waste words analyzing it).
Had the movie really gone for it and done a small genre deconstruction with it’s ending, I would have absolutely loved it. It would have set itself apart with more than it’s craft and would have become a more digestible version of Funny Games. As it is, blowing the execution and pussy-footing around the concept just doesn’t cut it. It’s still there, but there’s just enough failure in the presentation to make me question whether or not I’m projecting more than was actually intended. I could be missing something but oh well, we’ll see what the commentary has to say.
I know this was far shorter than the rundown of Funny Games but maybe that says something.
BONUS: Renn’s One-Word Movie Review #2
Good / Bad / Neutral
June 9th, 2008 : : Day Watch – Upgrade
June 8th, 2008 : : The Amateurs – Endearing
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