“Because you were home”—that’s the pragmatic explanation a masked psychotic butcher, one of a trio of aspiring coed murderers, softly and matter-of-factly provides when frantically asked by the captured Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler), and her boyfriend James Hoyt (Scott Speedman), why the trifecta is terrorizing the thirty-something couple inside their normally serene ranch-style vacation home.
Emulating the pioneer trailblazing of horror director George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)—in what could be reasonably described as a colorful inside-out version of the children’s story, The Three Little Pigs—The Strangers treads down the well-worn darkened path of residentially hunted human prey; of nonsensical brutality without back story, reasoning, or motive. Not as bloody or gory as our anticipation insinuates, Strangers aims it narrow sights and sharp edges more at visceral terror than grisly horror. When the time suits it, comparatively speaking, the crimson trickles rather than spurts.
Kristen and James are returning by car from a long night of dancing, drinking, and partying at a wedding reception when we join up with them. They are—maybe now, we should say, were—in love leading into the evening we’re introduced. This night, James has proposed marriage to Kristen, with elegant engagement ring in tow, and through a series of cleverly edited flashback snapshots retrieved from earlier in the evening, we’re left deducing that Kristen didn’t accept James’ proposal. He still has the ring in his pocket.
Plans to spend a romantic night together at James’ father’s rural get-away have been thrown slightly askew. The lovebirds usual wanting glances and seductive kisses have given way to vacant stares and awkward silences. The couple plan to spend the night under the same roof, if not the same bed. They can sleep off the night’s unexpected relationship twists with the advantage of beaming clarity from tomorrow morning’s rising sun, and then decide if a shared future holds. If they can last that long.