Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Movie Review: The Strangers

Sorry about yesterday. The power went out here, so I couldn't watch a movie if I wanted to. Anyway, I've fired up the DVR and am all ready to kick off

Dan Mayer's
End of Summer
Movie Review

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So, since it's going on 6 and I wanted to get 2 movies in today, the first movie I'm doing is the shortest one I could find on my list:
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The Strangers stars my heart-throb Liv Tyler (<3) and some guy, but seriously who gives about him? Liv Tyler!
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In a break from tradition, rather than just writing something afterward, I'm actually typing while I watch to save time (with a few minor edits afterward). So, let's dive right in.

Inspired by true events.
Right off the bat, there's a creepy VO and titles telling us that this movie is based on true events. An opening like that really doesn't bode well for this 2.5 star production, but we'll see. I'll admit, the 911 call was a nice touch. Not sure about the editing, but it doesn't fail to set the mood.

(And I have to pause the movie at this point because I banged my toe on the coffee table badly enough to break the skin. Reason #478 why I'll be glad to have a desk again)

You make me feel beautiful...
The timeline is kind of erratic from the start of this next scene. I get they're trying to set up the scene, but the pacing just feels weird to me. I know people like to Tarantino everything today, but would it kill directors to just let us, the audience, see the events in the same order the characters do? Maybe then I wouldn't be so lost from the get-go.

(Character note: this guy's kind of a puss, man. :P Well, maybe that's just me and my views on marriage. No need to open that can of worms right now)

After the initial clumsiness, the movie seems to find its footing and builds up to a good pace. Suspense is a little thin at first, but the sense of mystery once the girl shows up at the door grows nicely from there. I'm not sure I dig the random eerie violin notes every few seconds, though. The parts with no ambient music seem to work much better. Maybe that's just my personal taste, though.

The visual editing seems okay. Nothing to write home about. Plenty of good shots of Liv in that cute little dress, though. :)

There's someone out there...
I do like this initial scene where the person in the mask slips inside the house. It's very subtle, yet extremely effective. It's more of a less-is-more approach to horror than I'm used to seeing these days, and I appreciate that. I'm still not liking the added background music, though. Silence does far more for this scene than anything else. The sound effects have a lot more punch that way. After the next series of bangs on the door, though, the scene feels a little too familiar. And the broken record player bit is just plain ridiculous.

Don't go out there!
Once again, I'm inclined to dislike this guy playing Liv's loverboy. I will say, though, this actor does a brilliant job of playing the crappy boyfriend (assuming that's what he's trying to do). The masked girl's random disappearing and reappearing are a bit played. Am I really supposed to be scared by the same trick twice in a row?

The rest of this scene with the guy out by the car is okay, though. Again, I like the pacing of it. The camera cuts build a nice kind of paranoid suspense without being too over-the-top. It's not great, but it's not bad.

Just us and them...
I'm a bit confused about why the guy was so slow to accept that maybe these people broke into the home and took her phone. Once he finally accepts that, though, he continues to let us down be revealing that, while he was able to find a gun, he has no clue how to use it. Way to go, buddy.

Here's Johnny...
The axe-in-the-door bit was actually pretty well timed. Once again, I'm fascinated by the pacing of this film. It has a way of slowing down and lulling you in only to kick the action back up as soon as you don't expect it anymore. I like the way they keep us in the moment in the closet.

Hey, it's Mike...
Yet another character I despise. The scene is effective, though. Somehow that shot-to-the-windshield thing never gets old.

Here's a weird one: despite how much I hate this Mike guy, I don't want to see him get shot by his own friend by accident. And yet, I feel it coming... Any minute now...

Called it. Where's that Stephen Colbert graphic? Whatever, I'll find it later.

Yes, it's Mike. Congratulations, you shot your friend you called to give you a ride and get you the fuck out of there. Way to be that guy.

The masked folk are still doing their thing, and doing it well. I love how they go through all this psychological crap without seriously hurting anyone. It's good to see a horror flick that manages to be kind of scary without making it a total bloodbath. In short, it works.

I haven't said much about it up to this point, but I really do like Liv's acting in this role. She really sets the emotional tone for every scene. But I think this is even more true now. Maybe it's the horror-factor of knowing she's all alone now, or maybe it's that her wuss boyfriend was holding her back. Either way, the movie's getting better.

...Help me.
So, she's made it to the shed, and the scary sound effects continue. As before, I think we can do without the background sound here. The sound effects and the crazy broad with the axe do their job well enough on their own without musical punctuation.

I'm a little confused now as to why her injured leg suddenly doesn't slow her down as much. I guess you could chalk it up to adrenaline, since she starts hopping again shortly. Likewise, how did she spontaneously get up the courage to confront the masked girl after she starts looking at the ring on the table?

This movie is starting to take a weird turn. I mean, it didn't altogether make sense to start with, but its really working on my mind now. How do not one, not two, but three people find the time and energy to do crap like this? I'm getting more confused that scared at this point. I think I'd be more genuinely scared if I had any clue at all why this crap was happening. And unfortunately this next line isn't a good enough reason for me.

Because you were home...
And at last, the masks come off. And of course, we have to play it up by not really showing their faces at all to the audience. Bryan Bertino, you shameless cocktease.

And now, I'm sorry, but this ending is so rotten, I think there's no point in not spoiling it now. After all that playing around, the terrible threesome just out-and-out stab both of them with a knife. Not even just that. They knock the two of them out, tie them up, and wait until morning to finish the job. Apparently, and ironically considering her name, Liv's character lived through the ordeal, and is discovered the same day by some random kids.

So, inspired by true events, huh? I have a hard time believing things could have really went down this way. Is there anyone on this planet so cruel and twisted, yet completely ineffectual at torturing and killing people? And moreover, why the hell did this need to be made into a movie?

I'm reminded of the opening of the movie, which I decided I had to go back and read again for clarification.

"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's summer home. The brutal events that took place there are still not entirely known."

That last line is key. Not entirely known. In other words, they don't know what happened that night. All they know is Kristen and James were found brutally attacked in their home. Everything that happened in the movie before the stabbing bit was basically made up from scratch.

See, that's where this movie falls flat. It's an invented movie concept, but with a real ending. They build you up with all this suspense and stuff throughout, when in the end all that happens is the two of them are tied up and mutilated with a knife. The end. Buh-bye. It's a real-world crime that was dramatized by stretching it out into an hour and a half of "oh my god, what's going on?" See, in movies, when the audience is constantly barraged with that question, the answer has to be pretty fucking good. Not "Because you were home."

Seriously, this movie never needed to be made. It's less than an hour and a half, yet it felt like a lifetime for me. I'm guessing the actual crime was a lot less that this, in fact. Look, real psychopaths would've just snuck in and knocked them both out in a couple minutes. They wouldn't just douche around, standing on the front lawn and right behind them watching for an hour. I'm not a criminal psychologist, but I'm fairly sure that no one who enjoys gutting people for sport also enjoys dragging the whole thing out by scaring the victims witless while simultaneously giving the couple countless chances to defend themselves.

That's the second point where this movie fails. Real people in a dangerous situation like this would eventually start fighting back. If they knew they were in real physical danger, they wouldn't hesitate. There were countless occurrences where I thought, especially about James, "no one can really be this fucking stupid." If someone wanted to kill me, they'd have to do a lot more than scare me. They'd have to do way more than steal my phone and fuck up my car. They'd have to take away my Louisville slugger and every sharp implement in the house, because if this shit was happening to me and I had so much as a pair of toenail clippers left, I'd be cutting some bitches.

In all likelihood, the actual criminals had the victims tied up very quickly. They wouldn't allow them all that time to get weapons and scream for help and everything. The movie premise is just very bad. If things went down the way they did in the movie, the couple or at least one of them should have managed to get away.

Final Verdict:

Skip this one. It had its scary moments, but they don't make up for how far downhill everything went at the end. If you're going to build up all this suspense over the course of the entire movie, you can't just kill off the main characters and drop the audience flat at the end. That kind of ending isn't even scary or exciting; it's a giant letdown, that's all. With all that buildup, the ending has to be exciting and keep my on the edge of my seat. Two people sitting tied to chairs getting sliced up like fresh haddock is not exciting.

As of this moment, writer/director (if you can call him that) Bryan Bertino is on my personal shit list. If I ever get my own TV network, popular website (yeah, this doesn't count), etc. nothing produced by his crappy excuse for writing is every allowed to be advertised. Not on my watch. I have an obligation to protect my audience from crap like this. That's why I do these reviews.

Because I care. I'm like the CBS network, only broke.

Okay, I'm like the CBS network, period.

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