Why ‘The Strangers’ Is Still Terrifying 10 Years Later
By Rande Iaboni
“Is Tamara home?”
It’s a question that many horror movie fans should be familiar with – courtesy of the menacing Dollface killer from 2008’s sleeper hit, The Strangers.
The suspenseful thriller stars Liv Tyler (The Leftovers) and Scott Speedman (Animal Kingdom) as a couple, Kristen and James, in a remote suburban house who are targeted by three deadly masked strangers. Together they must do whatever it takes to defend themselves from the murderous trio and survive the night.
Who is Tamara? Why are our titular villains looking for her? Is she ever coming home?! Don’t expect to get the answers, after all, it’s much scarier that way.
Ten years later, our trio of strangers is back in The Strangers: Prey at Night(in theaters March 9). Once again, Dollface (Emma Bellomy taking over for Gemma Ward) is looking for Tamara, but this time around she and her conspirators are stalking Cindy (Christina Hendricks), Mike (Martin Henderson) and their teenage children in a secluded mobile home park.
As horror fans prepare for the long-awaited sequel, it’s worth revisiting the original – now a cult classic – which still holds up a decade later and continues to deliver genuine scares to audiences just discovering it.
Made on a tight production budget of just $9 million, The Strangers impressively grossed over $82 million worldwide at the box office. Quite an impressive feat, especially when you consider the simplistic plot. In an era of remakes, sequels and torture porn – The Strangers didn’t need a famous franchise, complex storytelling or gratuitous gore to make it worthy. It put everything into the scares – and boy, were there plenty.
“Every silence, pause and sudden noise startles – and the results, frankly, are more frightening than the graphic torture scenes in movies like Hostel and Saw,” critic Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily Newswrote at the time of its release.
Look no further than the iconic dialogue explaining the strangers’ motive, or lack thereof:
“Why are you doing this to us?” a fearful Kristen asks.
“Because you were home,” Dollface replies.
Sometimes the scariest experiences are the ones we cannot explain.
Director Bryan Bertino masters the art of suspense – from the moment the first knock comes at the door to the very last knife stab, he never gives the audience a minute to catch their breath, and that’s exactly how it should be.
With the exception of a brief flashback to a wedding reception, the action stays entirely inside the house or the surrounding backyard, serving up major claustrophobia and isolation.
“This is no splatter movie: spare, suspenseful and brilliantly invested in silence, Bryan Bertino’s debut feature unfolds in a slow crescendo of intimidation,” critic Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Timesnoted.
Both Tyler and Speedman bring their A-games to their characters, and despite the swift runtime and minimal development, we care about this couple the moment we meet them. Much of that is thanks to the meaty exposition of their relationship. (We quickly learn they are returning home after a rejected proposal.)
“Anchored by convincing performance from Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, both of whom elevate their roles above the standard horror-movie caricature,” Jessica Reaves of the Chicago Tribune wrote at the time.
Speaking of characters, the three villains also deliver the goods. While only Ward’s Dollface has dialogue, both Pin-Up Girl (Laura Margolis) and Man in the Mask (Kip Weeks) manage to make silent masked killers actually have some personality, or at the very least scare the pants off of audiences with their ruthlessness.
Find one audience member who wasn’t downright spooked while Kristen smoked a cigarette in the kitchen as the Man in the Mask stood behind her, silently watching, we dare you.