No sense getting to know The Strangers |

No sense getting to know The Strangers

Roger EbertUniversal Press SyndicateAspen, CO Colorado
Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman star in the thriller The Strangers. (Universal)

My mistake was to read the interview with the director. At the beginning of my review of The Strangers, I typed my star rating instinctively: One star. I was outraged. I wrote: What a waste of a perfectly good first act! And what a maddening, nihilistic, infuriating ending! I was just getting warmed up.And then, I dunno, I looked up the movie on IMDb, and there was a link to an interview with Bryan Bertino, the writer and director, and I went there, read it and looked at his photo. He looked in his 20s. This was his first film. Bertino had been working as a grip on a peanuts-budget movie when he pitched this screenplay to Rogue Pictures and was asked to direct it. He gave a friend his grip tools and thought: Cool, Im never going to need this anymore! Im never using a hammer again. Then he tells the interviewer: I still had to buy books on how to direct.So I thought, Bryan Bertino is a kid, this is his first movie, and as much as I hate it, its a competent movie that shows he has the chops to be a director. So I gave it 1 1/2 stars instead of one. Still harsh, yes. I think a lot of audience members will walk out really angry at the ending, although it has a certain truthfulness and doesnt cheat on the situation that has been building up. The movie deserves more stars for its bottom-line craft, but all the craft in the world cant redeem its story.Yes, Bertino can direct. He opens on a dark night in a neighborhood of deserted summer homes with two people in a car. These are Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman). They are coming from a wedding reception. They go inside James summer home. We learn that he proposed to her, but she isnt ready. The camera focuses on a 33 rpm turntable that, along with their Volvo, are the easiest two props I can imagine to create a 1970s period look.I am intrigued by these people. Will they talk all night? Will they do things theyll regret forever? Will they … there is a knock on the door! Not the sound of a human hand hitting wood. The sound of something hard hitting wood. It is very loud, and it echoes. To evoke an infinitely superior film, it creates the same sense of alarm and danger as the planks do, banging against each other in Le Fils (The Son), by the Dardenne brothers.They open the door and find a young girl. They tell her she has the wrong house. She goes and stands in the yard. And then, all night long, their sense of security is undercut by more knocks, breaking glass, scraping, smashing. The sound track is the third protagonist. After a time, Bertino creates an empty space in one of his compositions, and it attracts a … figure … that casually fills it, wearing a mournful, shroud-like mask. We will see the mask again. Also two figures wearing little-doll masks that are not sweet, but ominous. We recall the opening credits telling us, This film is inspired by true events. Never a good sign.I will say that Bertino shows the instincts and choices of a good director; I hope he gets his hands on worthier material.The Strangers Rogue Pictures presents a film written and directed by Bryan Bertino. Running time: 90 minutes. Classified: R (for violence/terror and language). Rated: One and a half stars.

Stephen HunterThe Washington PostI like watching snakes eat mice just as much as the next fella, maybe even more, but The Strangers turns the gobble-em-up into an ordeal. Its a fraud from start to finish.In the film, three strangers in campy Halloween masks stalk and torment two handsome 30-somethings in a well-appointed summer home. The two victims are all but defenseless in the face of the assault, so they never acquire much respect from the audience; though if the movies a hit, you can bet Smith & Wessons profits go through the roof. The unfortunate couple, played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, are initially presented as somehow dysfunctional; they mumble morosely and act like theyve wandered in from a Bergman movie about anomie in suburban Stockholm. Like everything else in the movie, this is never explained.When, in the middle of the night, someone knocks on the door, domestic problems are forgotten and survival becomes an issue, though both are completely incompetent. Writer-director Bryan Bertino leaves no stone unturned in his quest for cliche and his unbelievable depictions of behavior.


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