The Strangers (2008 film)

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The Strangers
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBryan Bertino
Written byBryan Bertino
Produced by
CinematographyPeter Sova
Edited byKevin Greutert
Music byTomandandy
Distributed byUniversal Pictures[1]
Release date
  • May 30, 2008 (2008-05-30)
Running time
85 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$9 million[3]
Box office$82.4 million[3]

The Strangers is a 2008 American psychological horror film[4] written and directed by Bryan Bertino. The film follows a couple (portrayed by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) whose stay at a vacation home is disrupted by three masked intruders (portrayed by Kip Weeks, Gemma Ward, and Laura Margolis) who infiltrate the home one night. It is the first installment in The Strangers film series. The screenplay was inspired by two real-life events: the multiple-homicide Manson family Tate murders and a series of break-ins that occurred in Bertino's neighborhood as a child. Some journalists noted similarities between the film and the Keddie cabin murders that occurred in Keddie, California, in 1981, though Bertino did not cite this as a reference.

Made on a budget of $9 million, the film was shot on location in rural South Carolina in the fall of 2006. Originally slated for a theatrical release in November 2007, it was postponed before a theatrical release on May 30, 2008. The film became a sleeper hit, grossing $82 million at the box office worldwide. It received mixed reviews from critics, with some praising its atmosphere and tension, and others criticizing its script and characters.

In the years since its release, it has become a cult film.[5][6][7] A sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night was released in March 2018. An upcoming third film is also currently in production and will be subsequently followed by two more films.[8]


James Hoyt and Kristen McKay arrive at James' isolated childhood summer home after attending a wedding. The couple is distraught after Kristen turned down James’ marriage proposal. James calls his friend Mike and asks to pick him up in the morning. The couple attempts to have sex, but are interrupted by a knock at the door. They answer to find a young woman, asking if Tamara is home. James dismisses her, and builds a fire for Kristen.

James goes to purchase cigarettes for Kristen. The woman from earlier returns, asking the same question. Kristen dismisses her again. A masked man is seen silently watching her from inside the house.

Kristen notices the smoke alarm she'd dropped on the floor earlier is now sitting on a chair and realizes someone is in the house. She finds her cellphone missing and is horrified when the front door is forced ajar. The young woman, now wearing a mask, peers into the house. She locks the door and retreats.

James returns and reassures Kristen that nobody is in the house. They see the young masked woman, Dollface, watching their house from outside. He attempts to get his cellphone from their car but finds it ransacked. The couple attempts to escape in the car, but are abruptly stopped when the masked brunette woman rear-ends them in a pickup truck.

Mike arrives and James shoots him dead. He remembers an old radio transmitter in a barn on the property. He leaves and the Man in the Mask knocks him unconscious then Kristen. The couple awakens tied to chairs in the living room. Kristen demands an explanation for the intruders' actions, to which Dollface replies, "Because you were home."

The offenders unmask themselves before taking turns stabbing the couple. They leave and come across two young boys distributing Christian religious tracts. The boy gives Dollface one, and the strangers drive away. The two boys come upon the house, where they discover the bloodied bodies of Kristen and Mike. Kristen startles one of the boys by grabbing his hand and screaming, before calling the police.



Film scholar Kevin Wetmore noted the film's portrayal of violence as a reflection of its contemporary culture, writing: "Death is a random act in post-9/11 horror—the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the cliché goes. Unlike in eighties slasher horror, for example, where engaging in negative behavior such as drinking, doing drugs, having premarital sex are often forerunners to being killed by the killer(s); [here], death is random and unrelated to one's behavior."[9]

In The Horror Show Guide: The Ultimate Frightfest of Movies, Mike Mayo noted the film's "grim realism," writing that the main characters "could have wandered out of a gloomy Ingmar Bergman film," ultimately branding the film as an example of "naturalistic domestic horror" akin to Michael Haneke's Funny Games.[10]

The film has also been noted by scholar Philip Simpson as highlighting "the divide between the underprivileged and privileged classes," as well as for its inversion of commonly-held beliefs about violence in urban areas and pastoral ethics: "The Strangers, as many horror films do ... undermines the conventional notion of rural society as a simpler, crime-free place. One might call the narrative sensibility informing The Strangers 'pastoral paranoia', in that danger lurks among the rough folk of the country rather than the suburbs and cities. Of course, it may be that provincial violence is a result of contamination, or in other words that the kind of stranger-upon-stranger violence typically associated with urban life metastasizes to the rural, a phenomenon noted by Louis Wirth."[11]

In his book Hearths of Darkness: The Family in the American Horror Film (2014), scholar Tony Williams notes the film's setting within a 1970s-era home as representative of an "American tradition of violence that is random and without any coherent explanation." Additionally, Williams reads the three masked assailants as metaphors for the "repressed and unresolved tensions affecting the couple inside the house."[12]


Screenplay and inspiration[edit]

I was thinking about the Tate murders and realizing that these detailed descriptions had painted a story of what it was like in the house with the victims. But none of the victims knew about the Manson family or why it was happening to them. So, I got really fascinated with telling the victims' tale. And not filling it in with an FBI profile and not filling it in with finding out that somebody's grandmother beat them and now they want to kill everybody. You read obituaries every day where someone is killed for a random reason. Yes, we may eventually find out why, but sometimes they don't.

Bryan Bertino, on his inspiration for the film.[13]

Writer-director Bryan Bertino wrote the screenplay which was originally titled The Faces;[14] it was the third screenplay he had ever written.[15] Bertino had a particular interest in the horror genre, noting how one can connect to an audience by scaring them, and would state in subsequent interviews that he grew up watching horror films.[15] In particular, he stated he was significantly inspired by thriller films of the 1970s while writing the screenplay,[14] and envisioned a film that "put the audience in the world of the victims."[15]

According to production notes[14] and subsequent interviews,[15] the film was inspired by true events from Bertino's childhood: Bertino explains:[16]

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 in the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses.[14]

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 that his main inspiration was the true crime book Helter Skelter, which is about the Manson Family murders;[17] some journalists speculated that the film was also inspired by the unsolved Keddie Cabin Murders of 1981 that occurred in a small vacation community in California's Sierra Nevada.[18][19] The film's premise has been compared by some film critics to the French horror film Them, released two years earlier, which also features a couple terrorized by strangers in their remote home.[20]

Bertino entered the screenplay for The Strangers into a screenwriting contest, after which he sold its directorial rights to Universal Pictures.[15]


When casting the two leading actors in the film, Bertino sought Liv Tyler for the role of Kristen.[14] Tyler, who had not worked for several years after the birth of her son, accepted the part after being impressed by the script, which she read while on a flight from Japan to Los Angeles:[21] "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."[14] Tyler later noted that she felt the screenplay was "extremely well-written" and that Bertino's "vision was greater than most."[22] Thandie Newton and Charlize Theron also expressed interest in the role.[23] Canadian actor Scott Speedman was cast as James. Speedman was also impressed by the script, stating that "the audience actually gets time to breathe with the characters before things get scary as hell. That got me interested from the first pages".[14]

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; Ward was officially cast in the film in September 2006.[24] In preparing for the role, Ward read Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter for inspiration.[25] Kip Weeks was then chosen as the 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.[14] In retrospect, Bertino said he chose the three actors based on their abilities to convey their characters in spite of the fact that their faces remain unseen onscreen.[15]


Mark Romanek (pictured) was originally attached to direct the project but after he backed out, Bertino took over.

Bertino had not initially planned on directing The Strangers, and had been disconnected from the project after selling directorial rights to Universal Pictures.[15] Both Justin Lin[15] and Mark Romanek were attached to direct, but eventually backed out.[26] Approximately two years after Bertino had sold the screenplay, Universal passed the project on to its subsidiary, Rogue Pictures, who approached Bertino to direct the project, despite his lack of experience.[15][27]

On a $9 million budget, filming for The Strangers began on October 10, 2006, and finished in early 2007. It was shot on location roughly 10 miles (16 km) outside of Florence, South Carolina, and the 2,000-square-foot (190 m2) house interior was constructed by a set crew.[28] Though the film takes place in 2005, the house itself was deliberately constructed with an architecture reminiscent of 1970s ranch houses and dressed in furnishings applicable to the era.[14] Bertino based the house on the types of homes common where he had grown up in rural Texas.[15] The property was located on the outskirts of Timmonsville, South Carolina. Despite weather complications, the film was largely shot in chronological order.[14]

Tyler described the shoot as mentally and physically taxing due to the "heightened emotional state" that she and her fellow actors had to sustain.[22] At one point, she came down with tonsillitis due to the extensive screaming the role required of her.[14] Tyler later said it was the most difficult film she had ever worked on, "both physically and emotionally."[21]

According to Laura Margolis, who played the Pin-Up Girl, Tyler specifically requested that she not see her mask prior to filming: "I got strict instructions not to let Liv see me in my mask before we shot," Margolis recalled. "The first scene that I shot was stalking [her] outside of the barn. I had been told that she really wanted to be scared. She didn't want to have to fake it, and so it was my responsibility to really scare her. So we shot that scene, I ran at her, she started actually screaming, and then she kicked me away."[29]

The masks featured in the film were chosen by Bertino, who wanted them to appear as though the killers "could have picked them up at any store."[15]


Film editor Kevin Greutert was hired to edit the film; at the time, he had recently finished editing Saw III.[30] Several changes were made to the film during post-production, primarily regarding the conclusion: In the screenplay and the original footage shot, the three masked strangers reveal their faces on camera.[30] After the sequence in which Kristen and James are stabbed, the strangers wander around the house, cleaning up parts of the crime scene before dressing into Kristen and James's clothes.[30] Following test screenings, it was decided by the producers that the strangers' faces should remain unseen to the audience, which required the sequences following the stabbing to be excised.[30]


The Strangers
Film score by
ReleasedMay 27, 2008
Film scores
LabelLakeshore Records

A musical score, consisting of 19 pieces composed by score producers Tomandandy, was released on May 27, 2008, and was distributed by Lakeshore Records.[31] 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.[32] "This is an impressive score and adds a tremendous chill-factor to the film," says Zach Freeman of Blogger News, grading it with an A.[33]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Tomandandy

2."The House"1:46
6."James and Kristen"2:39
7."3 AM Knock"4:47
9."James Returns"3:51
10."Run to Car"1:54
15."The Barn"3:05
Songs from Film, but not on Soundtrack
  1. "Ariel Ramirez" - Richard Buckner
  2. "Hopeful" - Jennifer O'Connor
  3. "At My Window Sad and Lonely" - Billy Bragg and Wilco
  4. "Sprout and the Bean" - Joanna Newsom
  5. "My First Lover" - Gillian Welch
  6. "Mama Tried" - Merle Haggard


Marketing and promotion[edit]

Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler promoting the film at the 2007 San Diego Comic Con

In late July 2007, Bertino, Tyler and 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;[34] this trailer was released on the internet several weeks later. 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.[35] The trailer originally began running in theaters attached to Rogue Pictures' sci-fi film Doomsday in March 2008,[36] 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,[37] and the other displaying a wounded Liv Tyler.[38] In April 2008, roughly two months before the film's official theatrical debut, the final, official one-sheet for the film was released,[39] featuring Liv Tyler standing in a darkened kitchen with a masked man looming behind her in the shadows.

Box office[edit]

The producers originally planned for a summer release on July 13, 2007,[40] which was eventually postponed to November 2007; however, this date was postponed as well.[41] The producers instead opted for a summer release, and The Strangers had its theatrical debut in the United States and Canada on May 30, 2008. In its opening weekend, the film grossed $21 million in 2,467 theaters, ranking #3 at the box office and averaging $8,514 per theater.[3] The film became a sleeper hit[42][43] with a successful box-office return,[44] earning $82.4 million worldwide.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 49% based on 164 reviews, with an average rating of 5.1/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "The Strangers has a handful of genuinely scary moments, but they're not enough to elevate the end results above standard slasher fare."[45] Metacritic reported a weighted average score of 47 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[46] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B−" on an A+ to F scale.[47]

Unfavorable reviews included Roger Ebert's of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four, saying: "The movie deserves more stars for its bottom-line craft, but all the craft in the world can't redeem its story."[48] Bob Mondello of NPR said the film was "A sadistic, unmotivated home-invasion flick."[49] Steven Rea of The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that "No one is getting at anything in The Strangers, except the cheapest, ugliest kind of sadistic titillation."[50] Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News compared the film to 2007's Vacancy – a "comparison which does 'Strangers' no favors. 'Vacancy' director Nimród Antal gave us a pair of heroes who fought like hell to survive, becoming closer and stronger in the effort. Bertino's undeveloped protagonists are colossally stupid and frustratingly passive."[51] Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post panned the film, calling it "a fraud from start to finish."[52] 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."[53] Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe said of the director, "Bertino has the pretensions of an artist and the indelicacy of a hack. He tries to get under our skin with a pile driver."[54] Stephen Whitty of The Star-Ledger opined of the film, "Unfolding with an almost startling lack of self-awareness, young filmmaker Bryan Bertino's debut is such a careful, straight-faced knockoff of '70s exploitation films that it plays like a parody."[55]

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."[56] Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter called the film a "creepily atmospheric psychological thriller with a death grip on the psychological aspect."[57] James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, saying that, "This is one of those rare horror movies that concentrates on suspense and terror rather than on gore and a high body count."[58] Scott Tobias of The A.V. Club said that "as an exercise in controlled mayhem, horror movies don't get much scarier."[59]

Additional positive feedback for the film came from 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."[60] Critic Kim Newman, writing for Empire magazine, remarked the film's retro style, noting: "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 summarized it as "an effective, scary emotional work-out."[61] Slant Magazine's Nick Schager listed The Strangers as the 9th best film of 2008.[62]

Home media[edit]

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released The Strangers on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on October 21, 2008.[63] 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.[64] The DVD was released in the United Kingdom on December 26, 2008.[65] The film was available on Universal VOD (Video on Demand) from November 19, 2008, through March 31, 2009.[66]

In commemoration of the film's 10th anniversary, a two-disc collector's edition Blu-ray by Scream Factory was released on March 6, 2018, featuring a 2K video transfer, as well as a combination of new and archival cast and crew interviews.[67] A region B limited edition Blu-ray was released in September 2020 by the United Kingdom-based distributor Second Sight Films.[68]


In the years since its original release, The Strangers has developed a cult following.[5][6][7] In 2009, it was ranked #13 on "Bravo's 13 Scarier Movie Moments" television piece,[69] and in a 2018 retrospective, Clark Collis of Entertainment Weekly deemed the film a "modern-day slasher classic."[29] The A.V. Club named it the 23rd best horror film made since 2000,[70] and in 2023, it was included in a list of the most disturbing films of the 21st century by /Film.[71]

Related works[edit]

In August 2008, Rogue Pictures confirmed that a sequel was in the works,[72] with Brian Bertino co-writing the screenplay with Ben Ketai.[73] The project was originally slated to enter principal photography in 2009,[73] during which time it was tentatively titled The Strangers: Part II.[72] Directors Laurent Briet and Marcel Langenegger were considered to direct, but landed eventually to Johannes Roberts.[74] After a troubled development period,[74] filming on the sequel began May 30, 2017.[75] Later titled The Strangers: Prey at Night, the film was released on March 9, 2018.[76]

See also[edit]



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  9. ^ Wetmore 2012, p. 83.
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  11. ^ Simpson 2013, pp. 192–193.
  12. ^ Williams 2014, p. 294.
  13. ^ Simpson 2013, p. 187.
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External links[edit]