“The Strangers” – Susan Granger reviews

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When you lock the door, you assume you’re safe, right? Wrong – if you happen to be in the Hoyt family’s isolated South Carolina vacation home at 1801 Clark Road on February 11, 2005.

After attending a friend’s wedding reception, James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) intended to spend the evening celebrating his engagement to Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler), complete with chilled champagne, rose petals, candlelight. But when she turned down his proposal, everything went sour and James phoned his friend Mike (Glen Howerton).

At 4 a.m., there’s a knock on the door and an inquiry, “Is Tamara here?” That triggers Kirsten’s yearning for Marlboros – and James eagerly departs to buy cigarettes. Then three unidentifiable, unwelcome “strangers” appear: wheezing Masked Man (Kip Weeks), Dollface (Gemma Ward) and Pin-Up Girl (Laura Margolis).

Exploiting our universal fear of a random home invasion, Bryan Bertino has attempted to create a terrifying psychological thriller, ostensibly based “on actual events,” leaving the possibility open that the creepy, irrational intruders stalking panicked Kristen could be manifestations of James’ fury at being rejected. It should also be noted that Bertino won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ prestigious Nicholl Fellowship for his first-draft script and was subsequently asked to direct it.

In order for a story to be believable, the audience must suspend disbelief and, while he’s admittedly making his directing debut, there’s no excuse for Bertino’s careless continuity. The candles always stay the same length, never burning down. A phonograph is playing, then it isn’t, then it is. A hand is bandaged and it’s not. Plus the behavior is illogical. So, despite its tantalizing theatrical trailer, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Strangers” is a ghoulish, grisly 3. Sloppy cinematic details diminish the scare factor.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.