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.