The Strangers ★★★

Bryan Bertino's The Strangers seems to have become something of a cult classic since it's release, because I was honestly a little surprised that it currently holds a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes after hearing how good and scary it was supposed to be over the past few years. Having now seen the movie...I kind of get it. To dive right in, this movie starts VERY strong. Bryan Bertino both wrote and directed this (in his directorial debut) and he clearly shows some skill in both departments. The build-up in this movie is honestly pretty great because he establishes tension of more than one kind from the word go and the ways in which he gradually ratchets it up more and more can get pretty nerve-racking. The titular antagonists have an aura of creepiness about them immediately, and this first half hour to forty-five minutes effectively establishes them as figures to be feared. The ways in which they toy with Liv Tyler's and Scott Speedman's characters at first just get under your skin and Bertino gets some good material out of it, including a chilling image that was used as a poster for the film (seen here). After that initial half hour or so...yeah, things devolve into your fairly typical slasher/home invasion tropes. But at least Bertino's prowess remains on display throughout. He knows how to stage and execute this type of stuff, even if his script falls back on cliche a bit too much. Then again, there is only so much you can do with a premise like this, so at least this never feels boring or anything. Also, I appreciated the decision to not supply The Strangers with any explanation or motivation as to why they're doing this. It serves to make the situation that much more terrifying.

Overall, I think I'm right down the middle on this one. The Strangers always had me interested and the film has a quick, tightly-paced runtime, but the build-up to the terror proved more suspenseful than the terror itself...however, that stuff was still decently handled. I think The Strangers ultimately accomplishes its goal, but the novelty of it is maybe limited to one viewing.