Friday, May 30, 2008

Film Review: "The Strangers" (B)

I have to say, this was one of the few mainstream horror movies that I've been excited about lately, probably because Liv Tyler is one of my favorite actresses and I was excited to see her in the genre. But, as per usual, one of two things happened: 1) I was underwhelmed, most likely due to my high expectations going in; or 2) I come out hating it. This time, it's number one. SPOILERS follow. Because I just couldn't help myself.

I'll start with what I didn't like first. The big problem with this film is that it gives away the ending in the first 30 seconds - because of this, some of the suspense is immediately taken from the film since you know what the end is going to be. Another problem I had was the masks, except for the Man's, which was at least somewhat creepy. It just seemed a little too "Scream" for me. I know that was part of the film's allure - masked man literally hiding in the shadows - but unless the film is done very well, it just seems cheap to me. And one of the best movies I've seen in recent years featured a home invasion-style plot without any mask wearing (the french flick "Inside"). Also, the whole scene with the friend? When EVERYONE in the movie theater can figure out that sub-plot before it happens, it's just bad. As for the ending ... the last five minutes bugged me for a variety of reasons.

One, why would two seemingly able-bodied young boys be walking their bikes and not riding them if they're not going up a hill? That makes no sense. Two, the Christian pamphlets ... that was too much. Three, they went for the ultimate cheap scare at the very end - which I hate. If you feel you need to do that to scare your audience, you're obviously either in an obviously B-movie or scrambling for an ending. By that point, I was ready for it to be over. Perhaps what ultimately makes this movie sub-par is that it tries to live up to films that have come before it, but just aren't at that level.

However, there ARE good things in the film - I sound like I'm bashing it, but to be honest ... the first half was good, it was just the second half that got lame. In the beginning, we're treated to something you don't often see (except more recently in "Vacancy") where the couple in question is fighting and you don't really know why. Only in contrast to "Vacancy," the two lead actors (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) actually have chemistry together and make a very nice start. I was genuinely interested in what was happening between the two of them and the tension already there was a good way to build up to the first encounter with the Strangers. I also really enjoyed the use of the vinyl record - not only was it actually a good soundtrack (although there is no score and surprisingly little dialogue, as well), but the scraping of the record being over is a fantastic way to put the audience on edge. Having a record player myself, I know how creepy that sound is in an otherwise silent house. I felt like the acting was above par for normal horror fare, although I would have liked to see a bit more dialogue between the two leads. I will say this - and I'm surprised at myself, honestly, for liking this - I liked the "i love you" from one character to the other as they were about to die. Usually I hate this cheesy sentimental BS in horror films (because you normally don't really identify with the characters enough to care, anyway), but for some reason it worked for me here.

All in all, this is a fairly entertaining ride for the first 40 minutes. After that, the film tries to do much when it is actually at its best being very simple and silent. I will never understand why so many people in the horror genre don't seem to realize that silence is often scarier than noise.

But hey. At least this wasn't PG-13 or a remake, right? Go see it for at least that reason - perhaps then people will see there is a market for R-rated horror.

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