Apathy and Sharp Objects (Review of The Strangers)

I had absolutely no desire to see The Strangers when it came out.  None.  First off, not the biggest Scott Speedman or Liv Tyler fan.

Herrreeee's Masky

Second, it looked like it would be some crappy gore film à la Hostel.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not totally anti-gore but I hate gore films that have no purpose and that seem to think disgustingly bloody=horror.  The Strangers looked like just that.  But a friend of mine watched it recently and told me I should see it; she thought it was one of the scarier movies she’d seen in a long time.  Given that this isn’t a friend who screams at the word “boo”, I thought it was worth checking out (especially when I saw it in Redbox…gotta love movies for a dollar).I am very glad I did.  Is it the most earth shattering film of the past several years? No.  It follows, quite often, the mold of a basic slasher.  There’s the mandatory stilted dialogue to “lull” the audience into a false sense of security.  Actually, while I wish it had been done away with a little, that sort of worked in this film; it sets up this inane dramatic scene that does draw you out of the “this is a horror film” thing for a little while at least.  Then there’s the fact that no one ever calls the police…ever…like, seriously, that should be the first call you make, you freaking morons.  There’s the promise that this is all inspired by true events, even though that actually never means anything in films these days…especially horror films.

Always take time to relax in the midst of committing murder

The two weakest points of the film are its repetitiveness and the predictability of certain moments.  I put those together because they probably could have both been avoided if the movie were about an hour long.  Unfortunately, Hollywood would never go for that.  After a while, the whole “yes, you’re scary, wear masks, and sneak in and out of the scene very quickly” thing gets a bit tired.

No, you're kidding...the long, drawn out stalking scene is a red herring? Who would have guessed?

Along the same lines, what I would suppose to be the biggest jump moment in the movie, (YES IT’S A SPOILER) where Jamie kills Mike accidentally, was WAYYYYY too drawn out.  After the first minute of Mike tiptoeing through the house while Jamie and Kristin are waiting in a dark room with a shotgun, I knew Jamie was going to shoot Mike.  And I really wished Jamie wouldn’t shoot Mike.  And then I had to sit there for 5 minutes going “please don’t have Jamie shoot Mike, that’s freaking stupid.”  It might not have bothered me as much had I not had as much time to sit there and figure out exactly what the next few scenes of the movie would be.

This scene definitely did not make me lock all the windows in the house.

However, even with those flaws, I really cannot comprehend why The Strangers got so ripped on by critics.  It’s a creepy ass film.  Period.  The scene were we first see the dude in the burlap bag mask (which is a really disturbing looking mask, by the by, much better than the plastic ones the chicks wear) was just perfectly done.  Quiet, chilling, simple and, frankly, one of the best horror moments I’ve seen in a long time.  The film is, contrary to what I thought it would be, surprisingly devoid of gore and jump moments.  It’s slow-moving: a cat and mouse game as opposed to a slash and gash horror.

Never has a skipping record been more ominous

While it might not be revolutionary, it is effective at making you want to constantly look over your shoulder to see if something’s stalking you.  The slightly swaying long shots of the house from outside create an unsettling atmosphere with great subtlety, as does the disturbingly incongruous happy/mellow music that continually plays on the record player.

NERD ALERT: Most interestingly, to me, as someone who’s a bit of an academic horror nerd, is how this film reflects the society we live in.  The generation that is now in their 20s is often considered to be a generation full of apathy, that we don’t have the drive and/or the guts to speak up against what we believe in the same as our parents, the hippies, did.  If horror is a reflection of the collective fears of a society, The Strangers is a commentary on a pervasive apathy and boredom that seems to be infecting the youth of the US.  When asked why they’re murdering, the masked ones reply “Because you were home.”  It’s not a farce or a cover for them to be saying that; they went on a murderous rampage because…well, just because.  If that isn’t apathy, I don’t know what is.  In a sea of horror films, especially remakes, that seem to have lost their cultural anchor, it’s refreshing to see one that seems to be very strongly rooted in the sociocultural fears of our time.

Ok, nerd alert over.  Point being, this film is far better than it was given credit for.  While it may not change the face of horror or deserve to go down in the annals of horror history, it definitely merits a viewing, and I would pretty much guarantee that if it’s given a fair shot, it will have you locking your doors and glancing out windows to make sure no masked figures are lurking in your yard.  And, given that, I’d say it’s a pretty damn successful horror.

EDIT EDIT TOTALLY EDIT: So, I forgot something I wanted to say.  One, the last scene of the movie sucks.  Like majorly sucks.  Like in a really hard this sucks sort of way.  The two scenes before that are actually really good – the climax where our two protagonists are finally caught/killed by the strangers and the scene immediately following that.  The fact that those scenes are during the day is totally creepy considering, come on, shit like that NEVER happens during the day.  Also, the scenes are just sort of quiet and understated.  Not big bangs and screamings, just brutal and realistic(ish).  Thus, the last scene…it sort of makes me angry.  Not all horrors need to end in a jump moment, people.  It’s really not always necessary. Especially when you just had a scene that, while super quiet and different, would have been an awesome ending.  Making a moment where something jumps out at you doesn’t equal a better ending.  It just makes me think they’re setting up for a sequel.  Which also makes me angry.  Ok, that’s it 🙂

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6 Responses to “Apathy and Sharp Objects (Review of The Strangers)”

  1. What’s with the sudden comments about ‘YES THIS IS A SPOILER’ …? Did you not mention way at the beginning that there would be spoilers? D: Did people get spoiled and then angry about the spoilage?

    That said… I might have to watch this now. Spoiled or not. 😀

    Also… burlap sack on the face is scary… but slowly becoming not-so-scary and somewhat overdone. I AM LOOKING AT YOU, SCARECROW AND CREEPY CHILD GHOST FROM THE ORPHANAGE.

  2. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. DON’T JUDGE ME, emayargee! And you totally should watch it. It really did surprise me with the goodness of it. I recommend making sure you’re in a dark room. I don’t recommend having your boyfriend point out halfway into the film that you’re sitting in front of a window and he’s not…that’s just not cool…

    And, dude, Scarecrow does not count as scary burlap sack face. He just counts as a Batman fail.

  3. Saw the film in the theatre. Freaky. The score, if you want to call it that, was perfect. Very chilling. To be honest, I don’t recall the very last scene. Just the scenes leading up to the final scene. Care to refresh my memory?

    • The score was amazing. I love when things are discordant in horror films – it just add that extra something.

      The second to last scene (what should have been the end) was the strangers driving away. There are two boys with Jesus pamphlets (the ones we see at the very beginning of the film) walking down the street. The strangers stop, the blond gets a pamphlet from the boy, and they drive away, the blond stranger telling the others “It will be easier next time”.

      The LAST scene is a callback to the first – the boys find the house, walk in, see various stages of disarray and blood. One of the boys go over to where Liv Tyler is collapsed on the floor. As he leans over her to check her pulse, she wakes up, grabs his hand, and screams in his face. End film. Just so brutally stupid and unnecessary, especially when the second to last scene is a great way to bring the thing full circle and be super chilling.

      • carpeviam Says:

        Yes. That’s right. No I remember. It should’ve ended when they took the tract and said “it will be easier next time.” THAT would have been a superb ending.

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