Before The Strangers was released in 2008, great home invasion movies were few and far between. Michael Haneke’s Funny Games in 1997 (later remade by Haneke again in 2007), France’s Switchblade Romance (or High Tension in the US), Them and Inside (2003, 2006 and 2007 respectively). Looking back, we had 1974’s festive horror classic, Black Christmas and 1979’s When A Stranger Calls, also later remade. Hey, you could even call George Romero’s 1968 zombie classic Night of the Living Dead a home invasion movie! So, despite a few others, the home invasion sub-genre was a bit all over the place to say the least.
This turned out to be a good thing for The Strangers as it seemed to come from out of nowhere. A simple premise: a couple, Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are wanting a relaxing weekend away at a family vacation home but their plans are ruined by three masked intruders. Simple as that really. But it’s writer/director Bryan Bertino’s expertly timed execution that makes the film work.
The bursts of music from an old record player, the flashback’s to Kristen and James’ night before they got to the cabin, the well timed scares and the almost unbearable at times tension throughout are what make The Strangers a success. Although not quite at the time. Mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike but fortunately, like a lot of great films, horror and otherwise, it has gone on to have some cult success on DVD. Which is a good thing as The Strangers definitely deserves to be seen by genre fans.
Looking back at the aforementioned films, the likes of Inside, Switchblade Romance and undoubtedly for it’s time, Night of the Living Dead, have their fare share of gore but the beauty of home invasion horror should be it’s ability to create the feeling that it could happen to any of us at any time. The reason the likes of When A Stranger Calls and Them worked was because of *that* feeling. Using the space and sound around them to create an atmosphere of fear, threat and dread throughout so the least loud noise, unexpected knock or sudden appearance from an unfamiliar face can make you jump out of your skin.
This is something The Strangers does very well and often. From the first knock on the homes door of an unexpected visitor to the terrifyingly real final scene, the film holds your attention for all of it’s 85 minute running time and one of the films final lines, where Kristen asks the masked intruders why they are tormenting them and one of them replies “Because you were home” in an innocent voice is truly chilling and hammers home that feeling that this could really happen to any of us and proving once again that you don’t need buckets of gore and jump-scares every ten seconds to make a great, effective horror film.
Subsequent home invasion films, like the ridiculously entertaining You’re Next, The Purge (both 2013) and Netflix success Hush (2016) have helped push this interesting little sub-genre forward but you can’t help but feel that The Strangers acts as some kind of middle ground between these later films and the likes of Funny Games and Them in terms of pure, psychological horror.
Did you enjoy The Strangers or the sequel The Strangers: Prey at Night? Let us know!