"The Strangers" is about a couple, played by Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, whose potentially amorous overnight in a remote family home in the woods is interrupted by a trio of masked crazies who proceed to draw big-time blood.
The fledgling writer-director Bryan Bertino – not to be confused with champion figure skater Brian Boitano – has said of his maiden effort: "Early on when I started writing, I figured out that a way to connect with people was to scare them. Through doing that, you can talk about other emotions, other feelings and connect with them more easily."
Just once, when some schlockmeister makes a scream-and-torture movie, I'd like to hear him (and it's always a him) say he did it for the money. These movies – other recent specimens include "Vacancy" and "Funny Games" – represent a great way for filmmakers to connect with people's wallets.
Which is not to say that "The Strangers" is unskillful. But to what end? Unlike others of his ilk, Bertino doesn't immediately dive into the mayhem. The couple, James and Kristen, are on the outs after his marriage proposal has been rebuffed. Their prenuptial tryst turns chilly; the rose petals James has strewn throughout the cabin serve as reminders of what might have been.
But just because Bertino attempts to paint these two as real people, as opposed to human targets, is no reason to stand up and cheer. He's still playing the same slasher-pic game, only in a slightly different key. The "humanizing" of this couple is essentially a tease – a setup for the mayhem to come.
And when it does, it's so gruesomely relentless that the effect is like watching a slo-mo snuff film. The actors playing the masked creepies never reveal their faces. (Good career move.) One wears a scarecrow hood, the other two, both women, have doll-face and pinup mugs. When Kristen cries out to them, "Why are you doing this to us?" one of the women answers, "Because you were home."
But sometimes, dear reader, there's no place like home, and that's just where you should be when this gorefest opens at a theater near you. Grade: D. (Rated R for violence/terror and language.)