The Strangers (2008 film)
The Strangers is a 2008 American horror film written and directed by Bryan Bertino and starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman. The film follows a young couple who are terrorized by three masked assailants over the course of an evening at a remote summer home. Writer-director Bertino was inspired by two real-life events: the Manson family Tate murders, a multiple homicide that occurred in California in 1969; and a series of break-ins that occurred in his own neighborhood as a child. Made on a budget of $9 million, the film was shot on location in rural South Carolina in the fall of 2006.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bryan Bertino|
|Written by||Bryan Bertino|
|Edited by||Kevin Greutert|
|Budget||$9 million |
|Box office||$82.4 million|
Originally slated for a theatrical release in November 2007, its release date was postponed, and it received a wide theatrical release on May 30, 2008. It grossed $82.4 million at the box office worldwide. Although a financial success, it received mixed reviews from critics, with some praising its atmosphere and tension, and others criticizing its script and characters. Contemporary film scholars have interpreted the film as a criticism of the perceived safety of pastoral life, as well as an exploration of stranger-on-stranger violence. A sequel titled The Strangers: Prey at Night, is set to be released in March 2018.
James and his girlfriend Kristen arrive at James' childhood summer home, tired and irritable after a long evening at a friend's wedding reception. It is revealed through flashback that while they were there, James proposed to Kristen and she refused. James calls his friend Mike and asks him to come pick him up in the morning. Shortly after 4 a.m., there is a knock at the door, surprising since the house is so remote and far from any civilization. A young blonde woman, whose face is obscured by low lighting, asks for Tamara. When told that she is at the wrong house, she leaves with the casual caveat that she will "see them later."
Due to the tension between them, James leaves to go for a drive and purchase a pack of cigarettes for Kristen; before he departs, he starts a fire in the hearth. Shortly after he leaves, Kristen realizes the chimney flue is closed, and attempts to open it; while she does this, smoke emanating from the fire triggers a smoke alarm. Kristen attempts to disarm the smoke alarm when she is startled by another knock at the door; she drops the alarm on the floor and retreats to the bedroom, unnerved. She calls James' cellphone from the landline, but their call is cut short. When she returns to the living room, she sees the smoke alarm now sitting on a chair, and realizes someone else has been in the house. When she hears a noise from the backyard, she arms herself with a knife, and opens the curtains to find a man wearing a sack mask, staring at her. Panicked, she stumbles into the hallway, and watches as the front door opens. When she goes to push the door closed, she sees the blonde woman outside, now wearing a doll mask. After locking the door, Kristen hides in the bedroom and hears people outside banging violently against the walls of the house.
The noise eventually stops and James returns to the house. After she explains what has happened, he finds his car ransacked and the blonde woman watching him from afar. His phone has also had its battery stolen and he realizes the house has been breached. The couple attempt to leave in James' car but a third masked stranger in a pin-up girl mask rear-ends them with a pickup truck, forcing them to flee. Back inside the house, Kristen and James find a shotgun and wait for the intruders in a bedroom. One of the strangers puts a country record on the turntable, filling the house with music.
Mike arrives and realizes something is wrong after seeing the smashed car in the driveway. He enters the house, and James, mistaking him for one of the intruders, shoots him dead. Devastated, James remembers an old radio transmitter in the backyard shed. He leaves and encounters the blonde woman. When James tries to shoot her, the masked man knocks him unconscious. Kristen hears the shot and runs to the shed. She finds the radio, but the pin-up girl smashes it. Kristen rushes back to the house, where she is incapacitated by the masked man. Both James and Kristen are now unconscious.
When James and Kristen awaken, it is morning, and they are tied to chairs in the living room with the masked strangers standing before them. Kristen asks them why they are doing this, to which the blonde woman replies, "because you were home". The strangers then unmask themselves to the couple offscreen, and take turns stabbing the couple in the stomach and chest before leaving. They drive past two young boys on bicycles who are distributing religious tracts. Dollface asks for a tract. The boy asks if she's a sinner and she replies, "sometimes". The strangers drive away, as the pin-up girl states, "it'll be easier next time". The two boys come upon the house and discover the chaotic scene, including the bodies of Kristen, James, and Mike inside. One boy approaches Kristen's body, and as he reaches out to her, she wakes up and screams.
Film scholar Kevin Wetmore noted the film's portrayal of violence as a reflection of its contemporary culture, writing: "Death is a random act in post-9/11 horror—the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the cliché goes. Unlike in eighties slasher horror, for example, where engaging in negative behavior such as drinking, doing drugs, having premarital sex are often forerunners to being killed by the killer(s); [here], death is random and unrelated to one's behavior."
In The Horror Show Guide: The Ultimate Frightfest of Movies, Mike Mayo noted the film's "grim realism," writing that the main characters "could have wandered out of a gloomy Ingmar Bergman film," ultimately branding the film as an example of "naturalistic domestic horror" akin to Michael Haneke's Funny Games.
The film has also been noted by scholar Philip Simpson as highlighting "the divide between the underprivileged and privileged classes," as well as for its inversion of commonly-held beliefs about violence in urban areas and pastoral ethics: "The Strangers, as many horror films do ... undermines the conventional notion of rural society as a simpler, crime-free place. One might call the narrative sensibility informing The Strangers 'pastoral paranoia', in that danger lurks among the rough folk of the country rather than the suburbs and cities. Of course, it may be that provincial violence is a result of contamination, or in other words that the kind of stranger-upon-stranger violence typically associated with urban life metastasizes to the rural, a phenomenon noted by Louis Wirth."
In his book Hearths of Darkness: The Family in the American Horror Film (2014), scholar Tony Williams notes the film's setting within a 1970s-era home as representative of an "American tradition of violence that is random and without any coherent explanation." Additionally, Williams reads the three masked assailants as metaphors for the "repressed and unresolved tensions affecting the couple inside the house."
Screenplay and inspirationEdit
Director Bryan Bertino also wrote the film's script, which was originally titled The Faces. Bertino took a particular interest in the horror genre, noting how one can connect to an audience by scaring them. He also stated that he was significantly inspired by thriller films of the 1970s while writing the film.
As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody who didn't live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors on the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses.
In interviews, Bertino stated he was "very impressed" with some of the theories circulating on the Internet about the "true events" the movie is allegedly based on, but said that his main inspiration was the true crime book Helter Skelter about the Manson Family murders; some journalists speculated that the film was also inspired by the unsolved Keddie Cabin Murders of 1981 that occurred in a small vacation community in California's Sierra Nevada. The film's premise has been compared by some film critics to the French horror film Them, released two years earlier, which also features a couple terrorized by strangers in their remote home.
When casting the two leading actors in the film, Bertino sought Liv Tyler for the role of Kristen. Tyler, who had not worked for several years after the birth of her son, accepted the part after being impressed by the script: "I especially liked Bryan's way of saying a lot, but not saying everything. Often in movies, it's all spelled out for you, and the dialogue is very explanatory. But Bryan doesn't write like that; he writes how normal people communicate—with questions lingering. I knew it would be interesting to act that." Canadian actor Scott Speedman was cast as James. Speedman was also impressed by the script, stating that "the audience actually gets time to breathe with the characters before things get scary as hell. That got me interested from the first pages".
In casting the three masked intruders, Bertino chose Australian fashion model Gemma Ward for the part of Dollface, feeling she had the exact "look" he had imagined; Ward was officially cast in the film in September 2006. In preparing for the role, Ward read Vincent Bugioisi's Helter Skelter for inspiration. Kip Weeks was then chosen as the Man in the Mask, and television actress Laura Margolis, who found the script to be a real "page turner", was cast in the part of Pin-Up Girl.
On a $9 million budget, filming for The Strangers began on October 10, 2006, and finished in early 2007. It was shot on location roughly 10 miles outside of Florence, South Carolina, and the 2,000-square-foot (190 m2) house interior was constructed by a set crew. Though the film takes place in 2005, the house itself was deliberately constructed with an architecture reminiscent of 1970s ranch houses and dressed in furnishings applicable to the era. The property was located on the outskirts of Timmonsville, South Carolina. During production, it was reported that Liv Tyler came down with tonsillitis due to the extensive screaming the role required her to do. Despite weather complications, the film was largely shot in chronological order.
A musical score, consisting of 19 pieces composed by score producer tomandandy, was released on May 27, 2008 and was distributed by Lakeshore Records. The album was received with generally positive reviews by critics. "It's a creepy score for what appears to be a movie that will make you jump as well as make sure that the doors are locked at night," writes reviewer Jeff Swindoll. "This is an impressive score and adds a tremendous chill-factor to the film," says Zach Freeman of Blogger News, grading it with an A.
All tracks written by tomandandy.
|6.||"James and Kristen"||2:39|
|7.||"3 AM Knock"||4:47|
|10.||"Run to Car"||1:54|
The producers originally planned for a summer release in July 2007, which was eventually postponed to November 2007; however, this date was postponed as well. The producers instead opted for a summer release, and The Strangers had its theatrical debut in United States and Canada on May 30, 2008. In its opening weekend, the film grossed $21 million in 2,467 theaters, ranking #3 at the box office and averaging $8,514 per theater. The overall box office return was successful, earning $82.4 million worldwide.
Marketing and promotionEdit
In late July 2007, Bertino, Tyler and Speedman attended San Diego's annual Comic-Con event to promote the film; all three were present for a questions-and-answers panel session, as well as a screening of the film's official teaser trailer; this trailer was released on the internet several weeks later. It was not until March 2008 that a full-length trailer for the film was released, which can be found on Apple's QuickTime trailer gallery. The trailer originally began running in theaters attached to Rogue Pictures' sci-fi film Doomsday in March 2008, and television advertisements began airing on networks in early-mid April 2008 to promote the film's May release.
Two one-sheet posters for the film were released in August 2007, one showing the three masked Strangers, and the other displaying a wounded Liv Tyler. In April 2008, roughly two months before the film's official theatrical debut, the final, official one-sheet for the film was released, featuring Liv Tyler standing in a darkened kitchen with a masked man looming behind her in the shadows.
The Strangers was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on October 21, 2008. Both the Blu-ray and DVD feature rated and unrated versions of the film, with the unrated edition running approximately two minutes longer. Bonus materials include two deleted scenes and a making-of featurette. The DVD was released in the UK on December 26, 2008. The film was available on Universal VOD (Video on Demand) from November 19, 2008 through March 31, 2009. In commemoration of the film's 10th anniversary, a two-disc collector's edition Blu-ray by Scream Factory will be released on March 6, 2018, featuring a 4K video transfer, as well as a combination of new and archival cast and crew interviews.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 45% based on 151 reviews, and an average rating of 5.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Strangers provides a few scares, but offers little else to distinguish itself from other slasher films." Metacritic reported an average score of 47 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Negative reviews included Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times who gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four saying: "The movie deserves more stars for its bottom-line craft, but all the craft in the world can't redeem its story." Bob Mondello of NPR said the film was "A sadistic, unmotivated home-invasion flick." Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that "No one is getting at anything in The Strangers, except the cheapest, ugliest kind of sadistic titillation." Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News compared the film to 2007's Vacancy - a comparison which "does "Strangers" no favors. Vacancy director Nimród Antal gave us a pair of heroes who fought like hell to survive, becoming closer and stronger in the effort. Bertino's undeveloped protagonists are colossally stupid and frustratingly passive." Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post panned the film, calling it "a fraud from start to finish." Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, said the film "uses cinema to ends that are objectionable and vile," but admitted that "it does it well, with more than usual skill." Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe said of the director, "Bertino has the pretensions of an artist and the indelicacy of a hack. He tries to get under our skin with a pile driver." Stephen Whitty of The Newark Star-Ledger opined of the film, "Unfolding with an almost startling lack of self-awareness, young filmmaker Bryan Bertino's debut is such a careful, straight-faced knockoff of '70s exploitation films that it plays like a parody."
Among the positive reviews, Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times said The Strangers is "suspenseful," "highly effective," and "smartly maintain[s] its commitment to tingling creepiness over bludgeoning horror." Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter called the film a "creepily atmospheric psychological thriller with a death grip on the psychological aspect." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, saying that, "This is one of those rare horror movies that concentrates on suspense and terror rather than on gore and a high body count." Scott Tobias of The Onion's A.V. Club said that "as an exercise in controlled mayhem, horror movies don't get much scarier."
Additional positive feedback for the film came from Joblo.com reviewer Berge Garabedian, who praised director Bertino for "building the tension nicely, with lots of silences, creepy voices, jump scares, use of songs and a sharp eye behind the camera, as well as plenty of Steadicam give it all more of a voyeuristic feel." Empire Magazine remarked on the film's retro-style, saying, "Like much recent horror, from the homages of the Grindhouse gang through flat multiplex remakes of drive-in classics, The Strangers looks to the '70s.", and ultimately branded the film as "an effective, scary emotional work-out." Slant Magazine's Nick Schager listed The Strangers as the 9th best film of 2008. Also, the film was ranked #13 on "Bravo's 13 Scarier Movie Moments" television piece.
In August 2008, Rogue Pictures confirmed that a sequel is in the works, with Brian Bertino co-writing the screenplay with Ben Ketai. The project was originally slated to enter principal photography in 2009, during which time it was tentatively titled The Strangers: Part II. Directors Laurent Briet and Marcel Langenegger were considered to direct, but landed eventually to Johannes Roberts. After a troubled development period, filming on the sequel began May 30, 2017. Later titled The Strangers: Prey at Night, the film is set to be released on March 9, 2018.
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