Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bryan Bertino|
|Produced by||Doug Davison
|Written by||Bryan Bertino|
|Editing by||Kevin Greutert|
|Distributed by||Rogue Pictures
|Running time||86 min.|
The Strangers is a 2008 American horror film written and directed by Bryan Bertino and starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Glenn Howerton, Gemma Ward, Laura Margolis and Kip Weeks. The film revolves around a young couple who are terrorized by three masked assailants, who break into the remote summer home in which they are staying and damage all means of escape.
The Strangers was made on a budget of $9 million and after two postponements, was released theatrically on May 30, 2008 in North America, and grossed $82.3 million at the box office worldwide. Although it was ambiguously marketed as being "inspired by true events", writer and director Bryan Bertino stated that the film was inspired by a series of break-ins that occurred in his neighborhood as a child, as well as some incidents that occurred during the Manson killings. Critical reaction to the film was mixed.
||This section's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (October 2011)|
The movie starts with a recorded 911 distress call from a boy who is screaming that he and his friend found two bodies lying in blood in an old vacation home.
Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) arrive to a remote summer vacation home owned by James's parents after attending a friend's wedding reception. He had just proposed to her there, but she refused. Shortly after arriving in the middle of the night, a young blonde woman (Gemma Ward), whose face is obscured by low lighting, knocks on the front door asking for Tamara, but leaves after James and Kristen tell her she is at the wrong house.
A short while later, James leaves to get Kristen a pack of cigarettes, and the woman returns and begins to pound harshly on the front door. Kristen refuses to open up, locks all the doors, and tries to call James on her cell phone, when she discovers that the phone battery is running dead. She plugs it into the wall to charge near the fireplace and calls James on the house phone briefly before the line goes dead. She returns to the fireplace to retrieve her cell phone, but it has disappeared. Kristen then hears a noise coming from the back door. She grabs a large kitchen knife and opens the curtains, seeing a man wearing a sack mask over his head. Kristen screams and trips over a record player, and it begins to play The Mamas & The Papas' Creeque Alley repeatedly. The front door then opens slightly, and Kristen peeks outside, only to see the blonde woman in a Dollface mask. She slams and locks the door before going to hide in the bedroom. After yelling "go away," the noises eventually stop, at which point she hears footsteps coming from the hallway, which turn out to be from James. As she explains what happened while he was gone, he tries to calm her down.
She frantically explains to James that she saw a man in a mask, and heard extremely loud banging noises. He goes outside to his car, whose tires have been slashed and its windshield smashed in. As he searches the car, someone touches his back, but then runs away before he is able to turn around and see who it was. Once he turns back to the car, he looks up and sees Dollface, and asks her profoundly to leave. After she runs off, James persuades Kristen that they need to escape in their car in order to get away from the horrors at the house.
When they are backing out of the driveway, a large truck pulls up behind them with its floodlights on, revealing another woman, this one wearing a Pin-up mask. After she smashes the truck into the couples' car, James and Kristen run back into the house, where they find the word "hello" written all over the window and wall in the bedroom. James searches for and finds his father's shotgun and shells. They decide to run for it. As the couple approach the front door armed with the gun, the Man in the Mask begins breaking down the door with an axe. Terrified, the couple block the door with a piano, and James attempts to shoot him, but misses. The couple decide to hole up in a closet, facing the open doorway with the shotgun armed and ready. They hear footsteps in the house, and one of the intruders puts on a country record.
James's friend, Mike (Glenn Howerton), whom James contacted earlier, arrives at the house in his car. When he tries to call James's cell phone, it goes straight to voicemail. But while he is leaving a message, a rock crashes through his windshield, prompting him to jump out of the car. He steps onto the porch and fails to notice Dollface hiding in the shadows there before entering the house. As Mike walks down the hallway, the Man in the Mask appears behind him, holding up the axe. When Mike steps in front of the closet, James fires the shotgun, thinking it is one of the masked killers, and kills Mike by shooting him in the face. After James and Kristen realize they killed Mike, James remembers an old radio in the shed and says it is their only hope.
James leaves the house, promising Kristen that he will return in a few minutes, but Kristen decides not to wait for him to return, and leaves to go to the shed in the backyard. There, she finds the radio, which she uses to try and contact someone for help, but when she raises her voice, Pin-Up Girl appears and smashes the radio. Kristen returns to the house to look for James. As she walks down the hall, the power is switched off and then she hears a few keys being played on the piano, followed by footsteps. The Man in the Mask enters the hallway, but does not notice Kristen, as he is looking in the other direction. Kristen hides in the kitchen pantry while the man searches the hallway. He sits down at the table a few feet away from the closet before leaving the room. Kristen peers out of the closet, only to find the blond, masked woman staring back at her. The woman breaks the pantry door in, but suddenly stops. Kristen exits the closet to find the woman waiting for her with a knife. Kristen opens a kitchen drawer to arm herself as well when James is pushed into the house by the masked man, who now has the gun. When James tells Kristen to run, she sprints for the front door, only to find Pin-Up girl blocking her way. She runs into a bedroom and slams the door before attempting to escape through the window, and suddenly the lights come back on and the door swings open. Kristen walks back toward the hall to see who opened the door, when the Man in the Mask grabs her and throws her into the wall. Barely conscious, she is dragged down the hallway.
James and Kristen wake up the next day and find themselves tied to chairs in the living room while the three strangers stand over them. Before removing their masks, Pin-Up Girl walks into the kitchen and returns with a large knife. Kristen asks, "Why are you doing this to us?" and Dollface answers, "Because you were home (hinting they were looking for a random victim)." Each of the strangers then takes turns stabbing James and Kristen seemingly to death. Then, shortly after the strangers stab her, Kristen hears Mike's phone ringing near his body and crawls toward it, but then the man wearing the sack mask comes and picks up the phone and breaks it leaving Kristen there.
The trio leaves in an old pick-up truck and spot two young Mormon boys, (Alex Fisher and Peter Clayton-Luce), prompting them to stop. Dollface takes one of the fliers that they are handing out and one of the boys asks her if she is a sinner, to which she replies, "Sometimes". As they drive away, Pin-Up Girl tells her, "It'll be easier next time." The trio leaves and the boys arrive at the house, finding the car windows crashed and the door open. The boys head in the house in curiosity only to find James and Kristen lying unmoving in the living room. One of the boys goes up to Kristen, and as he is about to touch her, she grabs his arm and screams in terror as the scene blacks out.
- Liv Tyler as Kristen McKay
- Scott Speedman as James Hoyt
- Gemma Ward as Dollface
- Kip Weeks as Man in the Mask
- Glenn Howerton as Mike
- Laura Margolis as Pin-Up Girl
- Alex Fisher as Mormon Boy #1
- Peter Clayton-Luce as Mormon Boy #2
Screenplay and inspiration
Director Bryan Bertino also wrote the film's script, which was originally titled The Faces. Bertino took a particular interest in the horror genre, noting how one can connect to an audience by scaring them. He also stated that he was significantly inspired by thriller films of the 1970s while writing the film.
According to production notes, the film was inspired by true events from director Bryan Bertino's childhood: a stranger came to his home asking for someone who was not there, and Bertino later found out that empty homes in the neighborhood had been broken into that night:
As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody who didn't live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors on the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses".
In interviews, Bertino stated he was "very impressed" with some of the theories circulating on the Internet about the "true events" the movie is allegedly based on, but said his main inspiration was from the true crime book Helter Skelter; some have said that the film was also inspired by the Keddie Cabin Murders of 1981 that occurred in a small vacation community in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains.
When casting the two leads in the film, Bertino sought Liv Tyler for the part of Kristen; Tyler, who had not worked for several years due to the birth of her son, read the script out of a stack of others she had been offered; "It spoke to me", she said. "I especially liked Bryan's way of saying a lot, but not saying everything. Often in movies, it's all spelled out for you, and the dialogue is very explanatory. But Bryan doesn't write like that; he writes how normal people communicate—with questions lingering. I knew it would be interesting to act that."
Canadian actor Scott Speedman was cast as James, Kristen's longtime boyfriend. Speedman was also riveted by the script: "The audience actually gets time to breathe with the characters before things get scary as hell. That got me interested from the first pages", he said.
In casting the three masked intruders, Bertino chose Australian fashion model Gemma Ward for the part of Dollface, feeling she had the exact "look" he had imagined. In preparing for the role, which was her first major acting part, Ward read Helter Skelter for inspiration. Kip Weeks was then cast as the looming Man in the Mask, and television actress Laura Margolis, who found the script to be a real "page turner", was cast in the part of Pin-Up Girl.
On a $9 million budget, filming for The Strangers began on October 10, 2006 and finished in early 2007 – the movie was filmed on location roughly ten miles outside of Florence, South Carolina, and the 2,000-square-foot (190 m2) house interior was constructed by a set crew. Though the film takes place in 2005, the house itself was deliberately constructed with an architecture reminiscent of 1970s ranch homes and dressed in furnishings applicable to the era. During production, it was reported that star Liv Tyler came down with tonsillitis due to screaming so much. Despite some weather complications, the film was largely shot in chronological order.
Marketing and promotion
In late July 2007, director Bertino and stars Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman attended San Diego's annual Comic-Con event to promote the film; all three were present for a questions-and-answers panel session, as well as a screening of the film's official teaser trailer; this trailer was released on the internet several weeks later, and can be found on YouTube. It was not until March 2008 that a full-length trailer for the film was released, which can be found on Apple's QuickTime trailer gallery. The trailer originally began running in theaters attached to Rogue Pictures' sci-fi film Doomsday (2008) in March 2008, and television advertisements began airing on networks in early-mid April 2008 to promote the film's May release. Two one-sheet posters for the film were released in August 2007, one showing the three masked Strangers, and the other displaying a wounded Liv Tyler. In April 2008, roughly two months before the film's official theatrical debut, the final, official one-sheet for the film was released, featuring Liv Tyler standing in a darkened kitchen with a masked man looming behind her in the shadows.
The producers originally planned for a summer release in 2007, which was eventually postponed to November 2007. It was pushed back yet one more time, and officially opened in the United States and Canada on May 30, 2008; in its opening weekend, the film grossed $20,997,985 in 2,467 theaters, ranking #3 at the box office and averaging $8,514 per theater. As of June 23, 2008 the film has grossed $52,597,610 in the U.S. alone exceeding industry estimates, and is considered a large box office success considering the production budget was a mere $9 million. The film opened in the United Kingdom later that summer on August 29, 2008, and as of September 21, 2008, had grossed £4,025,916. The overall box office return was highly successful for a horror film earning an outstanding $82.3 million at the box office worldwide. The movie received a rating of R from the MPAA.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. It holds a rating of 45% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 146 reviews. Metacritic reported an average score of 47 out of 100, based on 27 reviews. Among the positive reviews, Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times said The Strangers is "suspenseful," "highly effective," and "smartly maintain[s] its commitment to tingling creepiness over bludgeoning horror." Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter called the film a "creepily atmospheric psychological thriller with a death grip on the psychological aspect." James Berardinelli of ReelViews said, "This is one of those rare horror movies that concentrates on suspense and terror rather than on gore and a high body count." Scott Tobias of The Onion's A.V. Club said that "as an exercise in controlled mayhem, horror movies don't get much scarier."
Among the moderate to negative reviews, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four and said, "The movie deserves more stars for its bottom-line craft, but all the craft in the world can't redeem its story." Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News said that "Bertino does an excellent job building dread" and that the film is "more frightening than the graphic torture scenes in movies like Hostel and Saw," but criticized the "undeveloped protagonists" for being "colossally stupid and frustratingly passive." Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post panned the film, calling it "a fraud from start to finish." Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, said the film "uses cinema to ends that are objectionable and vile," but admitted that "it does it well, with more than usual skill."
Additional positive feedback for the film came from Joblo.com reviewer Berge Garabedian, who praised director Bertino for "building the tension nicely, with lots of silences, creepy voices, jump scares, use of songs and a sharp eye behind the camera, as well as plenty of Steadicam give it all more of a voyeuristic feel." Empire Magazine remarked on the film's retro-style, saying, "Like much recent horror, from the homages of the Grindhouse gang through flat multiplex remakes of drive-in classics, The Strangers looks to the '70s.", and ultimately branded the film as "an effective, scary emotional work-out." Slant Magazine's Nick Schager listed The Strangers as the 9th best film of 2008. Also, the film was ranked #13 on "Bravo's 13 Scarier Movie Moments" television piece.
The Strangers was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on October 21, 2008. Both the Blu-ray and DVD feature rated and unrated versions of the film, with the unrated edition running approximately two minutes longer. Bonus materials include two deleted scenes and a making-of featurette. The DVD was released in the UK on December 26, 2008. The film was available on Universal VOD (Video on Demand) from November 19, 2008 through March 31, 2009.
The album was received with generally positive reviews by critics. "It's a creepy score for what appears to be a movie that will make you jump as well as make sure that the doors are locked at night," writes reviewer Jeff Swindoll. "This is an impressive score and adds a tremendous chill-factor to the film," says Zach Freeman, grading it with an A.
Rogue Pictures' producers confirmed to Variety that a sequel is in the works, tentatively titled The Strangers: Part II. The film will be written by Bryan Bertino and directed by Laurent Briet. Shock Till You Drop reported that Realitivity Media put The Strangers: Part 2 on hold because they found that the movie might not be in their interest, even though Universal Pictures is willing to release it. However, Rogue Pictures confirmed in January 2011 that the sequel is now in production, and was supposed to begin filming as early as April 2011. The plot follows a family of four who have been evicted from their home due to the economy, and are paid a visit by the same three strangers from the first film. It is not known whether the sequel will receive a theatrical or a straight-to-DVD release. Liv Tyler will return as Kristen McKay while the original three masked villains are also set to return, however, in an interview Tyler had announced that she would only have a minor role.
The Strangers Part II is expected to be released sometime in 2013 or 2014.
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