Monday, September 22, 2008


What you are about to see is inspired by true events.
According to the FBI, there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America each year.
On the night of February 11, 2005, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt left a friend’s wedding reception and returned to the Hoyt family summer home.
The brutal events that took place there are still not entirely known.

So The Strangers tells us right off the bat, before effectively setting the stage with a 911 call, then winding the clock back to the night in question, and the “brutal events” that led up to that call.

Now, for the record, Bryan Bertino’s debut feature is one taut, nasty little motherfrakker. Once the thrills kick off, they don’t really let up.
We’re thrown right into the middle of Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) on the night in question, and clearly, there’s been some incident, an argument, perhaps, or something more; we find ourselves in the middle of a strained, awkward moment in their relationship.
It’s this initial section of The Strangers, where we spend time with the couple on a particularly troubled night, that involves us in their lives, and their emotional dilemma, Tyler and Speedman delivering performances engaging enough to keep our attention.
It’s also this initial dramatic section that serves as an excellent counterpoint to the intensity and suspense that take hold, once things take a turn for the worse.

The thing is though, I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of movies, the ones that purport to be “inspired by true events,” where we see people suffer and, more often than not, die, while the film itself doesn’t really illuminate anything beyond the adage “sh!t happens.”
When this sort of movie is done right—as Bertino’s The Strangers is—it’s thrilling and keeps the audience at the edge of their seats, their collective breath held, their eyes riveted to the screen.
But it really isn’t “entertainment,” not in the sense of an experience I’d look forward to repeating by watching the film over and over again.
Regardless of how close or distant the film is from the reality it’s purportedly based on (on many occasions, the “inspired by true events” tag is more marketing ploy than a genuine indication of the film’s narrative being based on any specific murder case), there’s no denying that this is still the kind of situation that can actually happen. There are no cannibalistic mutants in this, no zombies or vampires or parasitic aliens. Just psychos with really sharp implements.
Bottom line, I always feel ill at ease watching this sort of movie. (Of course, that could be Bertino’s entire point.)

Taking all of that into consideration though, this one’s definitely a gut punch, and Bertino structures the narrative well, while handling both the drama and the thrills with a deft hand.
I’m certainly looking forward to the director’s next effort. (He’s reportedly got three lined up, including Green Eyes, with producer Scott Rudin.)

“I think what scary movies allow you to do is you can take any character that has a background and cut them to the core. Like, at the end of the day, no matter whether they're a good person or bad, we're all going to react instinctively and I love the concept of being able to do that.
“What I love about horror films is if you go to see a great drama, you're going to leave emotionally exhausted. You go to a great horror film and you're going to leave emotionally exhausted, so when I decided to make something like this, I said, ‘What if I took both and put them together?’ Could that reach people even more? Because I don't think people do it enough.
-- Bryan Bertino

Parting shot: Reviews of David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s Ils (which presents a similar scenario) and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games U.S. (which is a statement on these kinds of movies) can be found in the Archive.

Parting shot 2: After seeing The Strangers, I came upon a Bertino interview where he basically says that the depicted events in the film aren’t actually based on one particular real life crime, so the “inspired by real events,” at least in this case, indeed looks to be more marketing tool than anything else.

(The Strangers OS courtesy of [design by Ignition Print]; images courtesy of and

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