The Strangers (2008)

The middle of nowhere is a great place to unwind and spend quality time with loved ones. Unfortunately, nobody can hear your screams in the middle of nowhere.

Kristen, played by Liv Tyler (Jersey Girl, The Lord of the Rings) and her lover James, played by Scott Speedman (Underworld, The Vow) arrive at James’ Childhood summer cabin. Tension is high between the couple after Kristen declined James’ marriage proposal; James’ struggling to see a future for the relationship now, arranges his friend to pick him up in the morning. Just then a knock at the door startles the couple, being in the very early hours of the morning. The woman at the door is looking for someone and is quickly turned away by James.

As the couple airs their differences the atmosphere of tension increases as it looks like there is no way back for Kristen and James. As James is the only one who knows where the store is, he leaves to get Kirsten cigarettes, before he leaves he lights a fire; however, he doesn’t open the chimney flue. The smoke from the fire begins to pour into the cabin and triggers the smoke alarm, startling Kristen. Another knock on the door further shocks Kristen and she drops the smoke alarm to the floor. Attempting to contact James she realizes that the phone lines have been cut.

Kristen descends further into panic as she sees that someone is inside the cabin and has moved the smoke alarm; she is watched unseen by a masked man lurking in the shadows. This begins a series of events that further isolate and intimidate Kristen, increasing the level of unease around the cabin. As James returns he finds Kristen in a state of hysteria as she explains the events that followed him leaving to the store. James goes to get his mobile phone to summon help; however that is made impossible as the car has been vandalized by the group of people terrorizing the couple. As they attempt to flee they are cut off, trapped in this nightmare.

Viewers will be hard-pressed to find a moral in this story as it deals with the inexplicable in the form of random violence. The atmosphere is set up with increasing layers of suspense and dread as each act of intimidation increases in violence until the harrowing conclusion. The fear of being a victim of unrelated atrocities and being isolated form the backbone of the narrative throughout. The direction by Bryan Bertino in his debut project keeps the story moving along and continues to heap layer upon layer of terror as we witness the fate of Kristen and James. Ultimately there is no lesson to learn and possibly the true terror is that this isn’t a supernatural yard that viewers can get lost into and as soon as the credits roll, that’s it! It’s not often that a vengeful spirit becomes a serial killer.

The true menace behind this movie is the absolute realism of what unfolds on screen. The outright plausibility of acts of random violence is revealed in the closing moments of the film. One of the most memorable quotes deals with the motives of the three aggressors and when this is revealed, it is outright chilling. People have always been scared by what is hiding out of sight and the feeling of isolation, being unable to summon assistance when we need it and this film deals with each one of those fears, amplifying the tension as each is placed on top of the other.