Why You Should Watch: The Strangers

Liv Tyler and Kip Weeks in The Strangers (2008)

From IMDb: A young couple staying in an isolated vacation home are terrorized by three unknown assailants.

No horror movie I have seen as an adult has scared me as much as The Strangers. I took a look at the trailer, and I think it actually does the film some justice if you want an accurate taste of the tone:

Home invasion is a very real fear of mine, and this movie features an incredibly creepy & suspenseful depiction of it by a group of people only known as “the strangers.” But the strangers don’t just want to kill their victims, they want to mess with them as long as possible first, making this movie pure nightmare fuel from start to finish. If you are into that sort of thing.

the strangers | Tumblr

I originally saw The Strangers in a packed theater with friends, and I remember us jumping more than any other other movie we saw together. That night, I couldn’t stand to walk anywhere near the sliding glass door to our backyard in fear of seeing someone silently staring at me with a bag over their head. As a gay woman, this is the only horror film I’ve ever watched that made me wish I was straight because if anything close to this happened in my life, I would turn to my boyfriend and be like, “…this is your job to deal with.”

The movie continuously builds tension as you watch the protagonists try to figure out what is going on and how to escape. It is based on a pretty unsettling batch of true stories including the Manson murders and anecdotes in the vein of the “Let’s Not Meet” section of Reddit. The film combines realism with a perfect dose of horror film elements (like the silent, masked killers) to take the realism and jack it up to be slightly outlandish but truly terrifying.

The strength of the film is that unlike other horror films which typically have an inciting transgression, the violence and terror of The Strangers is arbitrary. It is a crime of opportunity but the opportunity is to scare complete strangers to death. At one point, the protagonists ask “why are you doing this to us?” and the reply is a monotone, “because you were home.” The tagline of the film “We tell ourselves there’s nothing to fear – but sometimes, we’re wrong” perfectly encapsulates the fear it so easily taps into. What if someone was really outside our tent when we heard the twig snap and told ourselves it is probably just an animal? What if the unexpected knock at the door was a maniac? What if, in this completely isolated house in the middle of nowhere, we peaked through our blinds or peephole and saw someone in a mask right there? The Strangers is a splash of cold water to the part of our brains that tell us we are safe because we are alone.

This movie suffered from some weird marketing choices that seemed to want to lump the film together with torture porn films. The official movie poster is excellent – it really captures the creepy quietness at the beginning of the film. But when the movie was released to home video, this was the cover used:

Kip Weeks in The Strangers (2008)
Oh! Thanks for the offer but I don’t need any help dragging this corpse!

The cover art isn’t a complete lie – there are some pretty violent scenes, especially towards the end, that veer into torture porn territory. When The Strangers came out, the torture porn subgenre was just starting to fade out but was still popular enough to try and cash in on. But for the most part, this movie is equal parts creepy and suspenseful. And it has everything – people unexpectedly knocking on the door (never a good thing), creepy music that alludes to the situation with lyrics like “should we go outside?” (hint: they should not), and creepy unresponsive people with masks on.

So in summary, I would suggest watching The Strangers because it is one of the only horror films that has seriously scared me as an adult from start to finish. I have since been able to watch it a few times, but it took me a long while to come back to it. At the very least, watch it at night with your blinds open and without double checking over your shoulder.

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