The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Strangers

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Jacqueline Monahan

The Strangers

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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If you think personal safety is achieved once you’ve safely locked your doors to retire amid cell phones, hunting rifles, and kitchen cutlery, think again.

Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) return from a wedding reception to his family’s isolated vacation house. We can tell from their sullen body language that something is wrong with the couple’s relationship, a fairly recent occurrence.

At a little past 4:00 a.m., someone knocks violently at the large wooden front door. A spooky young girl asks, “Is Tamara there?” in a whispery monotone. She reluctantly leaves after eyeing the couple in a creepy way. Incongruously, Kristen is left alone in the house when James goes on a cigarette run for her just moments after this occurs, a move one of our former presidents would call, “not prudent at this juncture.”

Kristen is silently stalked by a trio of mask-wearing intruders. They make their presence known by moving items around the house and repeatedly knocking on the big wooden door several more times, then disappearing, only to reemerge under a streetlight, on a backyard swing, or next to a tree. A phone line is cut. Kristen is terrified and takes to walking around with a large butcher knife and trying unsuccessfully to fit under a bed.

When James returns he doesn’t believe her hysterical rant, similar in mindset to the male who will never ask for travel directions. “No one’s here, stop it,” he admonishes. He also gives her some rare good advice, once reality sets in and his car’s been vandalized and rammed by the intruders. “Put shoes on,” he orders. She doesn’t. Kristen and James do everything wrong as you will recognize from various visits to victimland from the comfort of a movie theater seat.

The couple must feel ambivalence for each other. Someone must get injured to the point where their speed is compromised. Weapons must get misplaced or left behind. A phonograph needle must skip on a vinyl album making an ordinary phrase ominous as Kristen runs, ducks, pants, and gasps her way through the hunt. James must be ineffectual as the male counterpart, disappearing for long lengths of time. It’s more fun to terrorize a female – they can scream without compromising machismo.

Eerie masks in the image of Dollface, (Gemma Ward) Pin-Up Girl, (Laura Margolis) and a man in a burlap-bag mask, (Kip Weeks) render the intruders otherworldly, even though they are far more dangerous just being ordinary, walking the earth among unsuspecting, law-abiding fellow humans.

Liv Tyler supplies nearly all of the tension, fear and suspense in the film, making us feel the despair, the anguish and the claustrophobic space that’s left when hope disappears and madness reigns. Her mistake is trying to understand it. “Why are you doing this to us?” she asks over and over to no one in particular until one of the masks answers, chillingly, “You were home.”

Dollface speaks in the flat, lifeless voice of a young woman who knows something but will not share. You’ll find out everything in the end, but, like pancreatic cancer, by the time the trio’s mission is discovered, the malignancy is much too large to cure.

Scott Speedman is not as capable showing fear as he is cynicism and disappointment in the early scenes, and his role could have been played by a host of other young actors without much variation to the plot.

The masked intruders (Ward, Margolis and Weeks) supply a good amount of shudder-inducing screen time as they purposefully appear, stand, saunter, and stroll through property that does not belong to them, but claim it just the same.

Writer/Director Bryan Bertino makes his debut on both creative fronts with this slow, creepy, revelation of the juxtaposition between human behavior that’s been baptized in normalcy, versus that of alternative value systems that value no particular system at all.

As one team in the deadly game seeks to start a new life, another seeks only to end it. How they move and what they seek has the two opposing teams split in psychology, conscience and accountability. One we understand, the other has us praying that they never pay us a visit.


Based on a conglomeration of actual events (from different and varied crime scenes), the true horror here is that such human aberrations move among us in the grocery store, drive among us in the next beltway lane and sit next to us in places of worship. “Next time it will be easier,” one of them says to the other as they depart in a pickup truck. That kind of scare can stay with you a while before it departs, returning to knock on your door in the dead of night.

That’s the time to remember that “hello” is only one letter away from “hell.”