Friday, May 30, 2008

"The Strangers": Not as strange as we may have hoped

If you're like me (and I pray for your sake that you aren't ... or at least that you have more storage space for all that Pyrex), you saw the preview for the new horror film The Strangers and became unduly excited at the prospect of what might be an honest-to-Xenu scary-ass movie heading to theatres for the first time since ... oh, The Descent?

Well, The Strangers gets about halfway to Terrifying, but pulls off to buy Beef Jerky somewhere around Creepy and ends up using the wrong ramp, and winds up in Half-Baked instead.

My biggest problem with the film is that it's just been done, and done well, too many times before. I will grant that the whole "two helpless people are beseiged by nameless killers whose intentions are never known for no reason" thing hasn't been done in an American studio film before, so maybe it deserves some credit for being relatively uncompromising in its meanness.

But we're not the average multiplex-goer, and we've seen this thing too many times. After the movie's rather laughable final shot, I kept thinking, "It's like
Them but without the inter-generational sucker-punch!", or, "It's like Inside but without the pregnancy and buckets of gore!", or, "It's like Funny Games but without all the pesky social commentary", or even, "It's like Vacancy but without the snuff film angle and Frank Whaley's pornstache!"

I'm not saying that a horror movie must - or even should - have a "point". But if not a point, at least give us a plot, or a compelling lead performance, or a really innovative villain. As impressive as it is to be able to create some legitimate suspense (which The Strangers does), is that really enough? Is that how beaten down we are by bad studio horror?

On the plus side, the score and sound design are magnificent, and there are a few good scares and those masks are kinda creepy the first few times you see them. But when a movie starts out with lame FBI murder statistics and a ridiculously somber voiceover telling you how horrible what you're about to see is and then delivers exactly what you expect it to (seriously, from the opening text it's impossible not to know how things are going to play out), it's hard not to feel a bit let down when the filmmakers don't offer any surprises.

After all, suspense and surprise are a director's greatest tools, so why have one without the other?

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