After watching the French-horror thriller "THEM" a few months ago, I didn't really have high hopes for this supposed "based" on true events film: "THE STRANGERS". If this isn't a remake, it certainly has strong similarities. (Maybe this was also based on the incident in Romania?) "Them" came out around 2006, if this was written before, what took it so long to be made? The quality of the film doesn't reflect anything special to cause a delay in its release. The French film was based on true events that happened in Romania; "Them" was full of atmosphere and the actors portrayed a very panicked couple who were trying to survive. "The Strangers" is no different, very similar premise--with a slightly different screenplay, comparisons will be made and this film gives a feeling of Deja Vu. So how does it compare to the French Horror thriller?
A young couple, James and Kristen (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler respectively) goes to a summer house after attending a wedding for a little "R & R". Apparently their "love" had become strained due to the fact that Kristen had rejected James' proposal. The two are quite uncomfortable around each other with James acting embarrassed about the whole thing. The two thought that they could try to reconnect with each other this evening, little do they know that this may become their most horrific night together as the summer house is assaulted by "The Strangers"…
I had mixed feelings about "Them", but I can very well say that the French original is a lot better than this film. This film would have done a lot better if it just matched the original shot for shot, and avoided any attempts at another screenplay. There isn't much that happens in "The Strangers" and while I do accept the idea of one night--a couple--in a big house--attacked by home invaders--the film resorted to the usual weaknesses that made horror films so filled of cliché.
The usual clichés are present in this film; very idiotic decisions, panicked reactions that doesn't make any sense and antagonists that "toy" with their victims. At least, in "Them" the couple were making credible attempts to survive; in this remake, James and Kristen seem to be just waiting for their death. Sure, the antagonists were probably "spooking" them out, but all their reactions did not make sense. The antagonists also seem like they're super-powered the way they keep on disappearing like ninjas. All the potentially "good" decisions were abandoned so the film can get to where it wanted to go. Talk about "Lambs to the Slaughter"…
Now, I can ignore clichés as long as the film knows where it is going but here, the antagonists spend a very significant amount of time standing around, walking the house and trying to intimidate --writing notes in walls and windows with red (I assume either lipstick or paint) the film just dawdles too much in trying to be creepy that it lost all elements of realism. (This is supposed to be based on a real story, right?) The lack of character development may be ignored so long as one can relate to the characters, when the viewer is immersed in the proceedings. The antagonists are all wearing masks that look rather silly and one look at those masks you'd know their intentions were obviously hostile. "Them" had it right with the hooded sweaters and the trickery with the shadows. Director Bryan Bertino definitely wanted to add some nice visuals and plays on ambiguity to try to make the film disturbing.
To its credit, the performance by Liv Tyler was quite good and she managed to show a lot of emotion. Scott Speedman had so little to work with, so I couldn't really say if his performance was bad or not. The "strained" romance thing does add some empathy to our characters. I was somewhat pleased that they weren't the usual happy couple. The film's cinematography is also quite atmospheric, although some elements looked too polished to really be claustrophobic. There were some intense moments that managed to give an unnerving feeling but the unsteady suspense just lost a lot of its "punch". The film is just based on clichés and idiocy, it is difficult to promote suspense when the build up is based on these formulas.
I do think this film would have done better without the "based on true events" gimmick. The "true events" thing will have to be met by realism and once you don't see that one defining factor, no matter how good the set-ups are, you may just fail. The film is supposed to be violent and disturbing, but for some reason, it felt oddly "tame" and irrelevant. Bertino's attempts for suspense relied too much on cheap scares and a spooky sound effects. The director ends up relying on overused genre mechanics that overstays its welcome.
For a film supposedly based on "true" events, "The Strangers" just falls flat. It even lacked the original's disturbing finale. The film would have been better off billed as a "slasher" flick than an involving horror drama that supposedly hits closer to home.
The dvd's unrated version clocks in 87 minutes while the theatrical version is at 85 minutes. Both versions are in the dvd. The extra two minutes of running time is on James' additional seconds of shooting and Kristen drags herself on the floor, for more of a "tormented" effect.
RENTAL [2 Stars]
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