Thursday, June 12, 2008

Movie Review: The Strangers

Ok, I think I'm emotionally ready to review The Strangers. My advice is this: OH MY GOD, DON'T GO SEE THIS MOVIE. Not because it's bad. It's not. It's well-made, well-acted and EXTREMELY successful as a horror film. However, it is NOT an enjoyable movie-going experience. My partner-in-crime cousin Brianna and I went to see it while I was in town for her high school graduation. (Congratulations, Bri! Yaaaay!) Bri had already seen the movie and was pretty much placating me by volunteering to see it again. Also, she enjoys the way I jump and screech at scary movies. Well, she got her money's worth this time, lemme tell you. Like she's any fucking better. Whatever.

So, we meet our protagonists, James and Kristen as they are driving home from a friend's wedding. Something has gone wrong between them; James is white-knuckling the steering wheel and Kristen's face is tear-streaked. They go back to James' parents' secluded cabin for what was SUPPOSED to be a romantic evening, but now, not so much. It's a brilliant place to start the movie really. There's a whole film to be made out of the first 15 minutes between James and Kristen. It turns out that James has asked Kristen to marry him and she refused. Ouch. Also, say it with me: AWKWARD. So, things are very tentative and painful between the two of them. Seriously, this goes on for some time. It's pretty great.

(A sidebar: I adore Liv Tyler. I think she's awesome. She was in Empire Records, which is one of my very favorite guilty-pleasure-movies-that-I-am-not-really -that-guilty-about-and-in-fact-love-unironically. See also: Steel Magnolias, 10 Things I Hate About You and My Chemical Romance's Life on the Murder Scene. Whatever, don't judge me. And she was so great as Arwen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Seriously great. Also, very pretty. And Scott Speedman? So much love for him. I adored him on Felicity and he was terrific in a great indie movie, My Life Without Me and even managed not to totally blow in Underworld. Don't get me wrong, that movie sucked beyond the telling of it. But he was ok in it. So, good cast here that had me ready to like them and root for them.)

ANYWAY. There's a loud, obnoxious knock on the door. There's a girl, her face hidden in shadow, asking, "Is Tamara home?" "No, you have the wrong house." "Are you suuure?" Then she shuffles off. It's really fucking creepy. Our hero sets off a bit later to get his lady some cigarettes and to lick his wounded sense of male pride or whatever. While he's gone, THINGS GET REALLY FUCKING SCARY. During this sequence is one the creepiest scenes ever shot, I swear. Kristen is on the phone with James, asking him to come back because she hears weird noises or something. The camera is focused on her and behind her and to the right, a masked figure* suddenly and silently appears and observes her for a minute, then fades back. I SHRIEKED. As did everyone else in the theater. Also, the entire theater started yelling for the first of MANY times, "TURN AROUND, BITCH! TURN THE FUCK AROUND!"** She doesn't. Then more scary stuff happens. AND THEN MORE. I ALREADY WANT TO LEAVE. (Seriously, if I were a person who walks out of movies -- and I'm NOT. I pay $10, I stay until the bitter end! -- I might have walked out on this one. It was that scary.)

James returns a bit later to find Kristen huddled in a corner with a butcher's knife in her hands, trembling and terrified. I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND HOW SHE FEELS, OK. And in a STUNNING moment of total sexism and distrust that totally dooms them both, he thinks she's overreacting. (Here's where you kind of start to get why she doesn't want to marry the guy.) Things escalate from there. AND KEEP ON ESCALATING. UNTIL I AM AM REDUCED TO LEANING FORWARD IN MY CHAIR WITH MY HANDS PRESSED OVER MY MOUTH, WHIMPERING. NO, REALLY.

The three masked attackers are terrifying in the silent, almost omniscient pursuit of James and Kristen. It sort of starts to get ridiculous; they are sneaky like ninjas and anticipate every move their prey might make and seem to be EVERYWHERE at once. And Kristen and James do some pretty stupid things. (Like, Kristen, hon? Maybe when you are being stalked by KNIFE-WIELDING PSYCHOS, you should put some shoes on. Just a thought.) But their ineptitude and the killers' seeming super-humanity doesn't really matter in the face of sheer terror and the ridiculous, grim intensity as the movie builds to its finale. The attackers only say like, four lines the entire movie and every line is the scariest thing I've ever heard someone say.

I was nauseous by the halfway point because I was so tense and anxious and scared. Really. It was not a good time. And the ending is...not pleasant. I felt dirty and voyeuristic for having watched. And then I felt stupid for having been so successfully manipulated by a stupid horror movie. I yelped and jumped out of my seat too many times to count. I also full-out screamed a couple of times. And lest you think I was that annoying person in the theater, seriously, so was everyone else. Including the trucker-looking guy sitting in front of us who shrieked like a little girl. That was awesome.

Brianna and I spent the drive home listing all the ways we would react differently if being pursued by masked lunatics, starting with wearing fucking shoes. That part was fun. So, go see The Strangers, if you must. But don't blame me if you don't sleep for a week. You were warned, babies.

* I'm DREADING this Halloween. You KNOW people are going to wear those fucking masks as costumes. If I open my front door to anyone dressed as those creepy assholes, I'm shrieking and slamming the door in their awful faces. Then maybe calling the cops. Whatever, I'm not taking any chances.

**This is why I love seeing horror movies in the theater: audience participation. I LOVE when people are jumping out of their seats and offering advice and/or criticism. It's so much fun!

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