Screenwriters must hate cell phones. Here’s a device that entered into the public and instantly made almost any dangerous situation escapable with one phone call. That leaves a writer with three choices: the battery dying, lack of signal, or the phone destroyed. It also requires some explanation on the part of the characters, and The Strangers uses an extensive opening to clarify why the cell phones are useless.
Writer/director Bryan Bertino wisely uses a short running time effectively. While 40 minutes may seem like an eternity before any action, it’s time well spent. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman have come home after a disastrous marriage proposal when a knock at the door changes everything.
Strangers is at its best early on, before it turns into the usual array of the nameless killers popping out of nowhere for quick scares. There’s no rhyme or reason for the murderous trio to mindlessly wander around the house, conveniently destroying everything the couple would need for escape just before they use it.
Without a face or personality on the masked killers, it’s not that clear what they’re capable of. When Jason comes walking up to a victim in his trademarked hockey mask, you know you’re in trouble. The faceless, mask-wearing threesome in The Strangers walk around and stalk for most of the film. It’s creepy, but not terrifying. Is there a reason for this rampage?
Comparing it to another recent “couple trapped in a small area while killers try to get inside” movie, Vacancy, shows where Strangers goes wrong. Vacancy may not have offered any reason for the murderers, but it never gave you time to think of any either.
The lingering pace is effective for tone and atmosphere, but makes you wonder why. If they’re going to kill, why not use the opportunities when Liv Tyler was alone and oblivious to the oncoming attack? Given their eventual attempt at eliminating the couple, it makes even less sense. It’s a shame the thrills are dampened by logic problems. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
Until the final moments, Strangers is a dark film, nearly devoid of light. The black levels are spectacular, maintaining this look accurately. They’re rich, and give the image a wonderful sense of depth. Unfortunately, by design, detail is sparse.
The transfers apparent sharpness is obvious from the opening frames, but the black levels mute finer facial detail. When the lights come back on for the final frames, things pick up. Contrast is excellent, and the facial detail that was obscured comes through wonderfully, if not amongst the top tier. Color is dependent on the lighting, and nicely saturated. There are no moments of noise or detectable artifacting on this VC-1 encode. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
A throbbing low-end used for atmosphere is the highlight of this DTS-HD track. The movie wouldn’t be the same without the proper audio set-up, which features doors and windows being pounded on for involving scares. Action is louder, cheaply increasing the fear factor, although with the crispness of the highs, you probably won’t complain. This is how home audio can enhance a film. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]
This Blu-ray contains the theatrical and unrated cut, which only adds a few minutes of content. The Elements of Terror is a short 10 minute featurette with loads of behind-the-scenes footage narrated by cast and crew. Two deleted scenes and generic BD-Live support are the only other options available. [xrr rating=1/5 label=Extras]