The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: The Strangers

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Strangers”
Rated R

Everyone’s bolted upright, tiptoeing through darkness in heart-pumping shock to investigate a loud nighttime thud. It’s often nothing, but the stomach-pit impulse that it’s something can splinter the nerves.

A fright-fest from which all fat was trimmed, 2008’s “The Strangers” depicted what happens if it is the incessant pounding of evil that will get in — someone to whom provocation is playtime to poke and prod until those inside are lifeless rags.

There’s no better feet-on-the-seat execution for the home-invasion genre than this, and the concussive shock of an unexpectedly collapsed relationship is a tough, terse and perfect hook on which to hang a story of random, rotten luck.

Kristen (Liv Tyler) has rejected James’s (Scott Speedman) marriage proposal, and their torpedoed romantic overnight at his family’s estate turns bloodcurdling with the arrival of a persistent woman on the doorstep and a relentless siege on the house.

Even in broad daylight, “The Strangers” twists the knife with scenes lasting a beat longer than normal to maximize dread and sound design excavating a hole in your cortex and nestling there.

Writer-director Bryan Bertino also never offers chicken-out exposition. Reason would be something with which James and Kristin could bargain. They never acquire that luxury, their desperate helplessness more unnerving than gore.

As is the way of malice, these intruders seem to simply materialize from thin air and inflict permanent damage. “The Strangers” suggested true evil has stood beside us all at some point. Just be thankful if it hasn’t met your gaze.

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4 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: The Strangers”

  1. […] arty to settle for home-invasion scares a la “The Strangers” and too laughably literal for “The Descent’s” unsettling uterine subtext, all that’s left […]

  2. […] but sinisterly effective trick that lets Joost and Schulman borrow the stalking, scanning terror of “The Strangers” if never its true wages of fear. And although their direction is more deliberate, Joost and […]

  3. Nick Rogers says:

    Lisa: Thanks for reading and commenting! For me anyway, a critical point separates this from something like, say, "Wolf Creek" (which *I* found pointlessly nihilistic). In fiction, serial killers often are demonstrably crazy, dangerously misunderstood or grew into it from childhood trauma. In the case of, say, "Panic Room," there’s a clear criminal motive for the robbers to get at the treasures buried in the home. In real life, sudden violence and helplessness is often random — not easily attributable to clear-cut mental imbalances or an impulse for thievery. Sometimes, it simply happens, and it shatters everything we know without rationalization. To me, that’s more terrifying than over-explaining the childhood trauma of, say, Leatherface.

  4. Lisa Davidson says:

    I hated this movie, more nihilistic than scary. I don’t like pointless violence without any sort of good resolution.