Erik Larson

Jan 3, 2009

The Strangers

I watched The Strangers last night, an unfortunate movie, if only because its sole aim is to scare the dickens out of you, but (at least in my case) fails miserably. (Actually, I should say that I re-watched The Strangers, this time at the offices, in the dark, and completely alone, hoping for that jolt of fear. Nothin’.) Let me explain.

First, if you haven’t seen it, it’s essentially the Manson Family idea: two women and a man in creepy masks descend on a house in the country to harrass a hapless couple, who’re staying at the house for the night (the house of the young man’s parents, who aren’t there). That’s the basic idea.

As for the couple, Liv Tyler plays Kristen McCay, who has recently rejected a marriage proposal from the now-frustrated James Hoyt, played by Scott Speedman. I thought the chemistry between the main characters was fine; the problem creeps in (no pun) when the bad guys show up. This is made known by the obligatory eery knock on the door, at four in the morning (which terminates the unfolding love scene— thanks a lot!), resulting in a peculiar exchange with a young woman at the doorstep, dead of night in the country, asking for someone in a dead pan I’m-in-a-horror-movie voice.

But Hoyt blows this off, and shortly after goes to get cigarettes for McCay, leaving her in the house by herself (yeah, right). Of course, you guessed it, the creeps from outside are soon inside, and the cat and mouse game begins.

By the time Hoyt arrives with the smokes, McCay is freaked. He’s still got the dismissive must-be-okay attitude, but after seeing one of the antagonists standing menacingly in the shadows outside one of the windows, he digs out the family shotgun. Now, with two women and a man wearing Halloween masks in the country, in the early hours of the morning, with no phone access (the hard line’s dead, and the one cell phone got chucked into the fireplace by the bad guys, who seem to be making excursions into the house to perform particular missions, only to go back outside to stand around and look scary), it would seem that there are two reasonable moves for our antagonized lovers.

One, get in the car and drive off . Two, retreat to a room of your choice (with no windows behind you, etc.), and sit there with the 12 guage and the several dozen shells Hoyt pocketed, and wait for daylight . Bad guys with Halloween masks disappear when the sun comes up (same goes with the audience’s fear). Then, simple equation: bad guy shows up with knife, shoot bad guy. That’s easy enough.

Neither option happens until it’s too late, though Hoyt and McCay do, eventually, attempt to drive off (what a concept!), but get rammed by the creeps in their creepy pickup and end up back at the house.

So, move one failed, proceed to move two. Sit there with the shotgun and wait it out. This was too boring, apparently; better to run around, finding creepy places, exposing yourself to danger. Be the victim! Feel the victim! Oh well.

Incidentally, one thing I did find interesting: a menacing knock on one’s door (with no peephole… that’s cheating) in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, does present a dilemma. Open it up, might be bad. Yell through the door? I guess, but then if it seems harmless, you’re obliged to open it (“What the hell do you want?” “Uh, my car broke down, I’m cold, and lost…”). Doing nothing seems a little too cautious (maybe even a little pusillanimous ), and shooting through the door without understanding the situation is obviously absurd. Assuming there’s no phone access, what would you do? Unfortunately, entertaining this mildly insipid question is the closest The Strangers came to pulling me into the Creep Zone.