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Film / The Strangers

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"Is Tamara home?"

The Strangers is a 2008 horror film written and directed by Bryan Bertino in his directorial debut and starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, and Glenn Howerton.

Kristen McKay (Tyler) and James Hoyt (Speedman) arrive at James' family's vacation house in a secluded area away from civilization. Tension and dissatisfaction plague their relationship, as they've returned from a friend's wedding where Kristen rejected James' marriage proposal at the reception.

However, that soon becomes the least of the couple's problems as just after 4 AM, they start being terrorized by three masked assailants (the titular "strangers") and enter a violent, desperate struggle to make it to the morning with their lives.

The film's success launched a series; a sequel, titled The Strangers: Prey at Night, was released in 2018, and a new trilogy of standalone sequel films taking place in the same continuity as the first two filmsnote  has been announced. The first installment, The Strangers: Chapter 1, is scheduled for release in 2024; it was directed by Renny Harlin and stars Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez.

Not to be confused with the 2006 horror film Them or Funny Games, which both have similar premises, or with the 2016 Korean horror film The Wailing, which is also known as The Strangers in some countries.

Tropes used in this film:

  • Ambiguous Situation: Because of the Nothing Is Scarier nature of the plot, much of the situation is unclear:
    • Exactly why were Kristin and James targeted by the killers? At the end of the film, Doll Face indicates that it was random, but that could’ve been just to suss out a little more dread from their victims. Presumably there was some kind of parameter chosen for potential victims- someone far enough from civilization so there’s no risk of outside interference but also victims without access to/knowledge of firearms (if James actually knew how to use his dad’s shotgun, it would’ve been a much shorter movie). Some viewers claim to hear the truck faintly in the flashbacks as well as seeing a woman that fits Doll Face’s general profile at the wedding reception- were Kristin and James being stalked for some time, being verified that they would be adequate playmates for the strangers?
    • Going off the above, would they have been left alone if they simply hadn’t answered the initial knock at the door? It’s implied that this line was just to see who’s awake but there’s got to be more to it than that. If James had answered the door with a weapon, or been less transparently guileless, would that have made the killers realize he’s not worth the risk and move on? It’s quite possible the entire line is “Because you were home….and were the only one stupid enough to answer your door at four in the morning without a care in the world”, with the second half being unspoken.
  • Antagonist Title: The Strangers.
  • Bathtub Scene: Liv Tyler takes a bath before the terror starts. We get to see her lovely sensual knee caps, possibly as a call back to Stealing Beauty.
  • Broken Record: The shock of seeing someone outside makes Kristen crash backwards, resulting in the song on their record player — Gillian Welch's "My First Lover" — skipping a particular lyric ("quicksilver girl") over and over until it's taken off.
  • Car Fu: The Strangers use their car to slam into the couple's to prevent their escape.
  • Chromatic Arrangement: The Strangers. They don't really have distinct personalities, and are differentiated mostly by their outfits.
    • The Masked Man: The only man of the family, a slightly schlubby man in a dirty brown-beige suit. Wears a sack-mask on his face like a scarecrow with eye-holes and a curly smile over his mouth; it makes him seem bald, but his unmasking shows that he does have hair.
    • Pin-Up Girl: A woman possibly in her thirties or forties, with shoulder length black hair. Dressed in a simple getup of light red top, dark red pants and a spotty black blouse underneath. Her mask includes fake hair curls and light make-up.
    • Dollface: A very young woman, possibly a teenager, with long blonde hair. Prominently wears a dark green jacket and dark blue jeans, with a tank top underneath. Her mask covers her eyes with weird, black shapes like a deranged cartoon, and other minor details seemingly designed to draw attention to her youth.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: The male lead makes a dash for the car to see if it's still working. He sees that all the windows of the car have been smashed in, but doesn't bother to look around his car at all before getting in. He doesn't get killed (there), but there WAS someone in the backseat.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The first 20-30 minutes of the movie.
  • Diabolus ex Nihilo: The Strangers are extremely enigmatic, with the film deliberately avoiding explaining the logic of their actions beyond its most basic interpretation.
  • Downer Ending: The couple are (maybe) dead along with their friend, the Strangers get away scot-free to find and torment more victims, and a pair of boys have come upon the carnage and are very likely suffering mental scars as a result, as is Kristen, if the paramedics arrived and got her to the hospital in time.
  • Dull Surprise: The two boys who arrive at and explore the house after the Strangers have seemingly killed Kristen and James. At least, expressions-wise; the 911 call one of them makes to emergency services in the opening is laden with distress and sadness.
  • The Faceless: The Strangers. They're always masked with the exception of three scenes, and even then, we never get a good look at their faces; the mundane Reaction Shots suggest their faces are normal, but this just adds to the horror.
    • Near the beginning, the blonde girl (Dollface) knocks on the door and asks for someone who isn't there, which turns out to be the reason they were attackedbecause they were home. She isn't wearing a mask, but her face is still deliberately cast in shadow with only basic details (her eyes, eyebrows and mouth) properly visible — presumably so they couldn't identify her if they tried to call the police.
    • Near the end, the Strangers gather before the couple, whom they have tied to a pair of chairs, and remove their masks one by one to let Kristen and James see their faces. The camera always cuts away before we actually see them, though.
    • Finally, during the penultimate scene where the Strangers are leaving the crime scene, they stop their truck beside a pair of boys handing out Mormon pamphlets so Dollface can ask them for one; some of the shots allow a distant, vague look at Dollface and Pin-up Girl's faces that gives away no major details.
  • The Family That Slays Together: The Strangers appear to be a simple three-person family — The Masked Man and Pin-Up Girl as a married couple, and Dollface as their daughter, likely a teenager.
  • Final Girl: Kristen survives long enough for the 2 boys to find her, however her fate is left ambiguous as the film ends here.
  • For the Evulz: The killers' motive (used as one of the movie's taglines) is nothing more than "Because you were home."
  • Harmful to Minors: The opening includes two boys witnessing the aftermath of the carnage, overlaid by one of them trying to call 911 to report the crime despite his distraught sobbing.
  • How We Got Here: The movie begins at the end and then jumps back to the start.
  • It Gets Easier: As the Strangers drive away, Pin-Up Girl tells her daughter, "It'll be easier next time." The implications are unpleasant.
  • Jump Scare: Oh so many. Most of them are expectedly courtesy of the Strangers, but the couple pitches in with some of their own, James with the impulsive gunshot that kills Mike, and Kristen with her Spring-Loaded Corpse move that ends the film.
  • Karma Houdini: The killers suffer no retribution for their actions...
  • Malevolent Masked Men: The Strangers.
  • Menacing Mask: Dollface and Pin Up Girl wear plastic masks depicting women's faces while Dollface's mask is less realistic and resembles something closer to an actual doll than Pin Up Girl's. The Man in the Mask does not wear a plastic or rubber mask. Instead, he has a white sack over his head.
  • No Name Given: The Strangers. They are credited as "Doll Face", "The Masked Man", and "Pin-Up Girl", but none of those names are heard in the film.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: This is the main source of the scares in the movie.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The Strangers are adepts at this.
  • Perilous Marriage Proposal: Kristen has just rejected James's marriage proposal at their friend's wedding when they go to his vacation home. The home is then almost immediately broken into by masked strangers, and before the night ends, Kristen is badly injured and permanently traumatized and James is dead.
  • The Quiet One: All three of the Strangers. They barely talk at all, and when they do, they don't mince words and speak in a flat, calm voice. The Masked Man goes the entire movie without saying a single word.
  • Red Herring: The smoke detector. When Kristen takes it off of the ceiling early on and leaves it lying on the floor, it seems like a Foregone Conclusion that the strangers will later try to burn the house down. They don't.
  • Rejected Marriage Proposal: Kristen has just rejected James's marriage proposal at a friend's wedding when they come to the vacation house.
  • Sackhead Slasher: The Masked Man combines a suit and tie with a burlap sack, with a smile drawn on in marker, over his head.
  • Sequel Hook: The Strangers driving away into the distance, with a passing comment about the next time being easier.
  • Spoiler Cover: One of the film's posters depicts the Strangers standing over Kristen and James, both tied to chairs, in a bright living room, giving away the fact that Kristen and James live through the night and heavily implying that they're about to be murdered.
  • Spring-Loaded Corpse: How the film ends. Kristen seemingly dies after the Masked Man takes her phone, but when the boys enter the house, one of them goes to touch her which point she suddenly springs back to life, grabs his hand, and screams in his face.
  • Too Dumb to Live: All the good guys. Kristen just runs around the house terrified and manages to injure herself, James manages to tell his girlfriend to stay in the middle of danger while he goes looking for help, and their friend Mike, despite the various things suggesting foul play (including a rock thrown on his windshield) does not think for one second about calling the police or even calling for his friends which leads to Accidental Murder.
  • The Unreveal: At the end, the Strangers take off their masks but the movie cuts away before you can see their faces, and continuously works to keep their likenesses hidden.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: A couple, in fact. Director Bryan Bertino said it was inspired by the following events:
    • When he was a kid, a stranger came to his house at night, asking for a woman that wasn't there. The next morning, it turned out that person and their partner were burglars; they had gone around to every house in his neighborhood, and the houses that didn't answer the door had been broken into.
    • The Manson murders were a secondary source of inspiration, in the sense that he wanted to tell a horror movie purely from the point of view of the victims, who had no idea why they were being targeted. It was for this reason he kept the antagonists so enigmatic and nondescript.
  • White Mask of Doom: The Strangers hide their faces using these.
    • Bertino did not cite a 1981 homicide where a woman, two of her children, and a third child were murdered in their rural home in the Sierras. Wikipedia cites it as a case for which journalists noted similarities, as the police investigation turned up no suspects and was never solved.