Hallow-vent Calendar - Day 20: The Strangers

Welcome to our Hallow-vent Calendar; a horror-film-filled daily countdown to our favourite spooky celebration, Hallowe'en. For Day 20, David Ames opens the door to The Strangers...

Home invasion movies have existed for years, whether they are the opening scenes to a revenge film, a slasher movie, or a psychological horror. The idea that someone could invade that very personal space we call home and make it hell for the inhabitants is an inherently scary idea. This idea is exponentially multiplied when the villains are just every day, regular people.

Today I sat down to watch a movie that I have loved ever since I first saw it in theaters. Brian Bertino’s 2008 classic The Strangers is the perfect mix of terror and psychology which a lot of films in the home invasion genre desperately need. It was something that, when I saw it the first time, actually unnerved me. Loosely based on the Manson murders, this film gives us a realistic view on what could happen should disturbed individuals become bored and want to play a game.

The movie opens with a couple, played by Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, who have just come to James’ childhood home, where we find out, earlier in the evening Speedman’s character proposed to Tyler’s, only to be rejected. The tension is thick and uncomfortable and the scenes are performed wonderfully. Suddenly, while things seem as though they might eventually be okay, there is a knock at the door. A girl whose face is hidden in darkness asks if someone is home, someone whom neither of the couple knows. They send her away but then she returns and she brings people. I don’t want to spoil any of this but chances are if you are a fan of the genre, this is one you have already seen.

The film is shot beautifully with a wonderful use of soft lighting to add to the couple’s relationship. That lighting is then utilized as the terror starts. For myself, one of the creepiest aspects of any movie is when one character is standing in the frame and behind them comes another but the first is unaware. The not knowing is the creepiest part and it uses this terrible dramatic irony to build suspense. The couple is genuinely terrified because they don’t know what is going on and we are scared for them because we are treated the same way—we also have no idea what is happening or why.

In fact, for my money the scariest part of the entire movie is when Tyler is face to face with one of the invaders, all of whom have dawned masks at this point. Tyler asks in a shaky, whispery voice, “Why are you doing this to us?” to which the girl replies, in a very monotone, almost uninterested voice: “Because you were home.” There is something so genuinely horrifying about being tortured by invaders because those people were bored and couldn’t find anything else to do.

The music of the film is also wonderfully understated with just a little noise. The composer uses silence in a deft way and adds elements of fear in with his music to help make everything more eerie than it would have been before. Along with this, the shooting is top notch. There is a great blend of handheld and stationary camera work, depending on the content of the shot. The director uses a lot of empty space for scenes where Tyler stands in a room and the villain comes in behind her, unbeknownst to her.

There are scenes in the movie that will cause you to gasp and to hold your breath. There are moments of such intimacy that you feel almost out of place watching but then there are scenes where you simply wish you could help. There is fear, terror, sadness, mistaken identity; all of the great qualities which help to bring together a great suspenseful movie. The three invaders play their roles incredibly well, especially the main villain. We never see their faces, we never know really why they are doing it, and we don’t need to. The movie is more effective if we don’t know.

I cannot recommend this movie high enough. It deserves to be watched but when you do, make sure the lights are off and the sound is loud. You won’t regret it.

Image - IMDb

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