Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are a couple staying in an out-of-the way vacation house. They’re menaced and tormented by three masked sociopaths (Gemma Ward, Laura Margolis, and Kip Weeks).
First and foremost, The Strangers is darn creepy. The magic of this movie is its wondrous subtlety. For example the scene when the Man in the Mask enters the kitchen with Kristen. She doesn’t notice him at all, and he doesn’t call attention to himself—he’s sneaking up on us, too. The masked villains are scary because they’re invulnerable; they’re always one step ahead of Kristen and James, who can’t even successfully wound them. They’re mysterious; they barely speak, and we don’t see their faces. They’re emotionless; they have no pity for their victims. The few times they do talk, it’s in a monotone.
Sound is also used successfully. There’s no score, just occasional licensed songs. And a lot of scary, jarring noises. Like when James and Kristen first encounter the maskies: Dollface comes and pounds on the door, repeatedly. There is little in the way of comic relief; James and Kristen aren’t even a happy couple. Before the action starts, James proposed to Kristen and she turned him down, making an awkward, painful situation to begin with.
I first saw this in the theatre with my husband Andrew, and I was definitely clinging to him more than once. When we went home, we needed to watch something funny before going to bed. When I went to check that the front door was locked, he said “Boom boom boom!” and I jumped a mile. Repeat: said. He didn’t make a banging sound, he spoke. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen to me often, so good on them! Here’s a shameless plug for an article I wrote a while back for addictedtohorrormovies.com that further explores how scary Dollface is in particular.