The Strangers Left Me Wanting For A Refund

There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today
I don’t know what it is
Something’s wrong with our eyes

-Aerosmith, Livin’ on the Edge

The are few things that have gotten as tedious for me as watching horror movies. It seems all modern horror movies fit the same mold. There’s an interesting idea. A half-assed attempt to make us care about the victims (there aren’t really protagonists in horror movies any more, just victims and iconic psychopaths). There are a few atmospheric scares. Then the filmmakers run out of ideas and begin painting with bazookas, becoming more blunt and violent until the movie ends. There’s no actual ending, the movie just ends as the centimeter deep well of ideas is long past empty.

The Strangers was no different.

The interesting idea is what got you in the theater: a couple of people stuck in a house being assailed by masked assailants. That’s the movie. Not in a nutshell, that’s the whole thing. Certainly nothing new, but it’s plenty for some.

The depth of the characters comes from the fact that we learn that just prior to arriving at the secluded retreat belonging to James’ parents, Kristen declined his marriage proposal. The tear tracks on their cheeks tell us that both are upset by this development, but it didn’t deter either from going on a romantic little getaway to the isolated vacation home. Now I’m not sure about everyone else, but I think most guys who have failed in a marriage proposal would generally think she said no because of one of two things:  it’s too soon (i.e. I’m a desperate idiot that can’t tell love from lust) or she thinks there’s someone better (i.e. I’m an abject failure at life and will only find a partner in the same). The fact hat he’s not mad and she’s still wants to go with him, alone, to a house in the middle of nowhere doesn’t really fit with how I think most people would react to the situation. Do you want to marry me? Nope. Well, let’s go to my parents house and cry about it together. Okay. I’m not sure what kind of reaction that is, but it didn’t really make me give a damn about either of these two.

Just as James and Kristen are about to make up by playing hide the salami, the atmospheric scares start. Pounding on the doors. Loud music. People fading in and out of dark parts of the screen. Things breaking. Things going boom. Things going bang. Things going crash. It doesn’t stop until the credits roll.

Early on in the second act the ideas begin to run out and the movie becomes unable to differentiate itself from, dang, anything really. James and Kristen venture outside despite knowing the attackers are outside and further more are nowhere to be seen. That’s new. Kristen can’t help but knock everything off the wall while she’s looking in the barn for… something. I’ve never seen that before. Kristen hides in a closet thinking she’s outsmarted the interlopers. Ooh, interesting idea. A masked head pops out of the dark and loud music blasts. Scary! And new!

After all the ideas, and the ideas about how they could use other people’s ideas, have run out, the victims die and the psychopaths leave. But not before they could drop a line suggesting a sequel- “It’ll be easier next time.” Does that line refer to the killer’s future plans or the fact that the filmmakers now have a template from which they can derive movies even more devoid of originality? $81 million box office against a $9 million budget gives you the answer.

The Strangers is nothing new and everything old. You’d be better served rewatching Halloween. And dear god, do I have to tell you I mean the original?

Like the Aerosmith quote says, there’s something wrong with the world today. There is a continuous stream of movies assaulting (and insulting) our eyes. Movies with just enough depth to make an interesting trailer. These movies, they are called horror.

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