The truth is, I liked more things about The Strangers than I didn't. If I were one of those people who made pro/con lists, the pro side would easily be longer. But that's the problem with a pro/con list, especially here. At a certain point, it's got to be quality over quantity, and the things I didn't like about The Strangers level things out considerably.
If you read other reviews for this, you'll see a lot of references to Michael Haneke's Funny Games, which he just revisited earlier this year. Both movies have the exact same premise in terms of a plot outline, but that film was more thematically interested in humiliating the audience as much as its characters, calling into question why we watch things we'd never wish on ourselves.
The Strangers is more of an Americanized horror thriller along the lines of the really effective Joy Ride from a few years ago and last year's less effective Vacancy: There's not much blood, plenty of things that could terrify you, and an overwhelmingly bad feeling that all of this won't end well.
A couple retreats to the woods for what is supposed to be a romantic getaway. She (Liv Tyler) is not on the same page with her man (Scott Speedman from Underworld), so really, the only way their weekend alone together could get worse is to be stalked by a trio of faceless psychopaths.
So guess what happens.
It unfolds slowly and is incredibly creepy the entire way. From about minute 15 to about minute 75, it's hard to watch The Strangers. Say what you want about the obvious DNA in the storyline, but director Bryan Bertino has made a movie that sticks with you if you like being scared.
He introduces his characters, then introduces the terror, and wraps everything up in under 90 minutes, knowing there's only so long this movie can go. And for a rookie director, he shows a lot more restraint than you'd think.
But the ending is really deflating, and because their moves are impossible to track and in some cases even explain, you get the very real sense that the masked psychopaths in are steeped in ninja training or something, which allows your disbelief to overtake your suspension of disbelief.
Having said that, The Strangers is still a pretty solid genre picture, it's just not a great one, and in a genre not known for greatness in the first place, that puts a fairly low ceiling on this.
Starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman
Directed by Bryan Bertino