"The Strangers: Unrated" Blu-ray Review
October 06, 2008 by Zach Demeter
A low (very low) budget thriller, The Strangers made its theatrical debut in theaters after a full year of scheduling delays and to great success. With fair critical reception and a solid opening weekend, the film cruised its way into making back its budget nearly six times over domestically alone. With Liv Tyler in the lead, the scary haunt that was The Strangers quickly climbed horror buffs lists as one of the more unique and exciting films of the past few years. Unfortunately for the general public this means that there will undoubtedly be a few direct-to-video sequels as the studio jumps at the chance to cash in on this unlikely hit.
Explore your worst fears imaginable with this shocking suspense thriller inspired by disturbing true events. After a 4.am. knock at the door and a haunting voice, Kristen McKay (Live Tyler) and James Hoty’s (Scott Speedman) remote getaway becomes a psychological night of terror s three masked strangers invade. Now they must go far beyond what they thought themselves capable of if they hope to survive. Also starring Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), The Strangers makes its debut on DVD and Blu-ray with an uncut version with five more minutes of terror.
Ok, so that last bit of “five more minutes of terror” was my doing and it may very well be just some hyperbole, but that’s what happens when you combine your own summary with what’s on the back of the jacket. Truth be told the difference between the cuts is extremely minor, with only a few sequences actually standing out as new. Still, it’s nice to have both editions (I suppose), although you really don’t gain much over the other; some more gore, some more dialogue, that’s about it. But enough about the cuts, we’re here to talk about the film itself.
As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m not a big horror fan. Never have been and likely never will be; the more I watch of the genre the more I realize it’s not that I really hate to be scared, it’s more that I hate to watch crappy movies, which is sadly what the majority of the horror genre is. Very rarely do you get a film that’s of a high enough calibers that you wouldn’t categorize it as simply “horror” but rather “horror good enough to recommend to a non-horror fan.” It simply doesn’t usually happen very often, although The Strangers was a close contender for the majority of its runtime. Unfortunately the film began to lose me during the mid-section, where it got a bit too fat with redundancy.
The entire first act of the film, even during the quiet scenes between our lead (and the only two actors for the most part) characters you can feel the tension as you await the arrival of the “Strangers.” Everything makes you jump and before long the film is making you wince at the slightest sound. If nothing else, the first forty-five minutes of the film are well-crafted and create levels of tension that I haven’t felt from many films before. There are plenty of “Holy sh-t!” moments to make you jump and the gradual introduction of our villains is what makes the film so enjoyable to watch. You are pretty much guaranteed to jump or shield your eyes from the stupid actions our characters take (“Don’t pull back that curtain!”, “Don’t open the door!”), so don’t worry about the film not having a nice level of scares.
Despite the enjoyable nature of the films early half, by the time James friend Mike (Howerton) shows up, the films begins to drag. The simple idea of them running for their lives rather than staying around trying to outsmart their attackers while being scared out of their minds doesn’t ever seem to occur; sure it’s a small, rural town but apparently they drove from somewhere and even in the dark they had to have been able to run somewhere else. Of course that would have ended the film, so that’s just being picky, but overall it just seemed rather ridiculous to stay around as long as they did.
I also got rather bored of the sneaking around the house and the Strangers suddenly popping up on screen. It soon became entirely expected that we’d see one of those creepy masks pop up somewhere on screen, so by the time the film was over I was no longer freaked out by the white blurs in the night. I just wanted them to go away. Although I will say that bit where the “Man in the Mask” character first showed up in the film as a small blip in the back of the screen was scary as hell. In addition I enjoyed the masked strangers reasoning for doing this (“Because you were home.”) more than anything. So simple and so screwed up.
In all I think this film just ran a bit longer than it probably should have; I enjoyed it for the most part, but by the middle it stopped being scary and I soon didn’t care what the outcome was. I will also say it was a bit strange watching this film and then watching the season three premiere of Heroes, w here the Claire/Sylar sequence was nearly verbatim for something from this film, with its shot set ups and reflections in mirrors, even the hiding in a closet with slats. If this early homage is any indication, The Strangers may receive quite the cult following down the line.
Overall this is a solid film but you’re still going to have to be into the horror genre for it to really “do” anything for you. It definitely requires a previously implemented desire to see horror/thriller films. Although the documentary on the disc did bring up an interesting point—this is more of a “terror” film than a horror, so if you think of it in that regard it is rather unique. Regardless, it’s the month of Halloween and if you’re looking for a title to scare you for a bit, this is the one. Recommended.
Arriving from Universal in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with a (very) high-gloss slipcover, The Strangers doesn’t exactly arrived packed with bonus content. As previously mentioned both cuts of the film are included here, selectable from the standard Universal “blade” menu setup.
The VC-1 encoded film looks quite good, although it’s so dark for the majority of the film that it’s really hard to judge it on much in terms of sharpness and colors. There is some good detail to be had, but the picture does sport some softness overall. I’m not sure it’s a processing issue though, but rather just how the film itself was shot. For such a dark film the lack of grain is rather surprising, although some does crop up on occasion. Overall not a bad transfer for the film, but nothing that will astound, which is something I was prepared to say about the included DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track until one sequence in the film changed my mind. Despite this being a film that relies heavily on sound effects to screw with you, it doesn’t do much with the speakers until the sequence in the barn which has sound flying all around the room. The use of surrounds in that particular sequence brought a smile to my face, as the rest of the sound effects remained in the front end, although the door pounds and music cues certainly provoked a lot of subwoofer activity on their own. Spanish and French DTS 5.1 (theatrical version only) tracks are available, as English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
And now the extras! There ain’t much here, folks, so don’t be too surprised. A short burst of Deleted Scenes (4:51), in standard definition, fill in some more bits from the film, one of which made my theory of them just running away even more applicable. It showed James at a bar, so obviously there was one that wasn’t too far away from the house, probably a couple hours on foot if that. I would’ve hoofed it to get away from those psychos. The final extra is a making-of documentary "The Elements of Terror" (9:13), presented in 1080i. This is small fluff piece, although Tyler and director Bertino toss out some interesting bits here and there, such as the aforementioned profiling of this film being more “terror” than “horror.”
Overall a weak set in terms of extras, but still worth checking out if you’re in the mood. It won’t make you wet your pants, but there are still plenty of scares to be had and it may make you think twice about spending time in a secluded house. Recommended.
The Strangers: Unrated arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on October 21st.