Suggesting an American remake of David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s Them, The Strangers is practically an abstraction: an old-school spooker spun from the blood splatter on a wall, a nearby record player scratching an oldie, a CB radio in the garage, a creaky swing set in the backyard. First-time helmer Bryan Bertino is beholden to genre quota, skidding the relationship of pretty young couple Kristen and James (played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) before subjecting them to an after-dark home invasion. But he offers no profound rationale for why she refuses his marriage proposal; like the shadowy stranger that comes knocking at their door (eerily asking, “Is Tamara home?”), it’s something that just happens. What’s up with the bemasked ghoulies of the film’s title? Why all the door-slamming? Who’s Tamara!?! Plying an old-school artistry that begins with a creepy montage of bumblefuck houses and holds up almost without fail until the strangers offer a creepy non-justification for their transgressions, analog-man Bertino teases with the unknown until he’s left no pimple ungoosed. Sometimes avoiding the synapse-raping bad habits of splat packers Eli Roth and Alexandre Aja is its own reward; doing so without also submitting to Michael Haneke–style hand-slapping is nearly monumental.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 27, 2008