31 Days of Horror: the subtle scares of The Strangers

SAN DIEGO - JULY 28: Actress Liv Tyler of "The Strangers" attends the 2007 Comic-Con International on July 27, 2007 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/WireImage)
SAN DIEGO - JULY 28: Actress Liv Tyler of "The Strangers" attends the 2007 Comic-Con International on July 27, 2007 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/WireImage) /

Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers was released in 2008, and since its release has gathered a cult following. The film follows a couple coming home late from a wedding reception to their desolate vacation home in the woods. After a knock on the door from an unexpected guest, sinister stalking ensues.

The film thrives on its atmosphere and pacing. It’s often discussed as a “slow burn” film and it lives up to that description in all the best ways. The film is the epitome of slow burn, atmosphere and dread. Being set in practically one location, the film puts you in a state of isolation almost instantly. Bertino even once mentioned in an interview that he specifically wanted the house to feel like a character, it’s essentially the heart of the film. He meticulously blueprinted the house, where the exits are, every window, every opportunity for the titular strangers to creep in and out. Watching the film one can see just how much all that paid off, as the house is such an integral part of the story and it’s specific layout plays important roles in the flow of the story. Bertino also cites his inspiration coming from a childhood memory of a stranger knocking on his parents door asking for someone who did not live there, and that evening multiple houses on his block had been broken into… creepy.

The characters introduction also doesn’t make the situation any less bleak as James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) are awkwardly struggling together as a couple with a proposal gone wrong the night of the film, dropping the audience in not only a terrifying situation but also an awkward tension between two leads. Speaking of the actors, Liv Tyler absolutely kills it as one of the most underrated final girls in horror. In fact Tyler had to deal with her own real life horror of having strep throat during the filming of the movie, so each blood curdling scream was a painstaking labor for the sake of selling her performance.

Another fun fact, Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has a role in the film, and while it’s short, it’s always funny seeing big stars appear in these niche films.

The film itself is firing on all cylinders as a terrifyingly real and horrifying home invasion film. Bertino executes every scare perfectly, all while the lightning, cinematography and sound design elevate the haunting feeling of being watched so well.

On the topic of the sound design, you’re probably wondering why I singled that aspect out. Besides being the invisible artist behind many great horror films (I’m a filmmaker too, I know), it plays an especially important role in this film with it being a home invasion story and all. The sound design absolutely rocks throughout the film, but there’s one scene in particular where the sound is the driving force behind the rising tension.

Kip Weeks- Actor in The Strangers
Kip Weeks during 21st Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival – Retrospective in Black & White by Chris Weeks in Santa Barbara, California, United States. (Photo by Chris Weeks/WireImage) /

The cinematography and lighting go hand in hand to create a shadowy nightmare for our protagonists, as you’re lucky to even see the antagonists white masks peering out from the dark. That’s not to say they don’t have a presence in the film however, the three violent strangers in this film are out in full force and still deliver some devastating violence towards the third act, everything prior being cat and mouse game from hell.

Overall, The Strangers is a cult classic that really deserves its flowers. I’ve heard some criticisms from various horror fans saying it’s too slow and too boring, and while they are entitled to their opinion, I personally see it as the peak of the home invasion genre. Nowadays we gave great flicks Hush and You’re Next but none of them will ever send a shiver down my spine like The Strangers did, and continues to do no matter how many times I watch it.

Have you seen The Strangers? If so, let me know your thoughts and if not, try to cram it into your watchlist this October. If you enjoyed reading this review, check out some of my other articles and feel free to follow me on my social medias such as Twitter (JacobAtTheMovie), Instagram (JacobTheHarper), Facebook (JacobTheHarper) and Letterboxd (JacobTheHarper).

The Strangers is currently streaming on Netflix.

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