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Blu-ray Review: The Strangers – “Should be required viewing for anyone looking for thrills and nightmares this Halloween season”

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Released as a limited edition Blu-ray box set from Second Sight Films on the 28th of September, The Strangers is written and directed by Bryan Bertino (Mockingbird) and stars Liv Tyler (Empire Records) and Scott Speedman (Underworld).

Kristen (Tyler) and James (Speedman) return home after a friend’s wedding in a bad spot following a failed proposal. They’re sad but still obviously care for each other deeply and Tyler and Speedman do excellent subtle work that tells us everything through gesture and attitude alone with no exposition necessary. All the while Bertino is making us aware of the layout of the house and all the moving parts he’s going to use as events unfold.

Just as things start to look up a stranger knocks on their door interrupting a make-up clinch. From the porch shadows, a creepy young woman is asking if someone who doesn’t live there is home and is sent packing, but we soon learn that she is not alone, she is not going anywhere and she and her friends want nothing but to make Kristen and James’ lives misery before ending them – and for nothing more than kicks, and for no reason but that they happened to be home.

Man in the Mask (Kip Weeks – Ragged Isle), Dollface (Gemma Ward – The Great Gatsby) and Pin-up Girl (Laura Margolis – Dirty Sexy Money) are three masked killers who ruthlessly stalk and slice at the young couple, and whoever else happens to stop by, watching from the shadows, setting up spooky messages throughout the house and hiding or destroying anything that may aid their targets’ survival.

The Strangers is an OG home invasion film and it feels odd and exciting to watch a film that mastered the sub-genre in its infancy and influenced every other film that followed or imitated it. The Strangers is lean and almost completely stripped back to essential elements. Every single item and event serves a purpose, nothing is extraneous and the antagonists are entirely motiveless and almost complete mysteries to us. Anyone who knows anything about horror will tell you that it’s always scary when you don’t know what’s going on behind a killer’s eyes or mask and The Strangers’ triptych of slashers are emotionless and iconic in equal measure and entirely chilling and nightmare worthy.

The performances are excellent across the board with Tyler a particular stand out, completely sucking you into empathising with her character from the off, while Speedman’s suitor could have been annoying or dumb but feels like a normal heart-broken guy doing every and anything he can to protect the woman he still loves.

Bertino’s direction is unfussy and makes killer use of the house, it’s isolation and every single shadow or piece of open space making you feel constantly exposed and on edge. This is elevated by frankly beautiful cinematography from Peter Sova (Donnie Brasco) that is all warm tones broken up by razor-sharp reflections of every single blade or piece of glass and a spooky, stringy, tonal score from tomandandy (Killing Zoe) that stops and starts or all the best places and has stings that should come with a medical warning.

In the dozen years since its release, no other home-invasion movie has come close to the punch packed by The Strangers – a horror film that hasn’t aged a day and should be required viewing for anyone looking for thrills and nightmares this Halloween season.

Film: 


The audio and video encoding is really nice with no noticeable artefacts. The surround is sharp and the mix makes use of the rears to good effect, making you aware of creaks and steps around and behind you. The picture is crispy and even though The Strangers is a very dark film there is no blocking or banding in the blacks and detail even in low light is easily visible.

The assortment of extras includes an extended cut, deleted scenes and new interviews with Liv Tyler, Laura Margolis, the director and the editor Kevin Greutert (Titanic and the Saw franchise). The set arrives complete with new artwork, a poster, and a softcover book with new essays, stills and behind-the-scenes images.

We watched the Extended Cut which is just under two and a half minutes longer than the Theatrical — 01:25:10 vs. 01:27:34 — with two differences: one sequence of looking for some car keys runs a shot and a bit longer and seems re-jigged to add additional suspense, while the other is an extra detail added to the end that prolongs Kristen’s agony and makes the end nastier and sadder.

‘Because You Were Home’ is an hour-long interview with the writer-director that goes into great depth concerning how he got to be making The Strangers via being a film geek and the film’s concept and creation. Bertino is an interesting talking head and is full of peeks into his process and the film going from testing badly to being a nihilistic cult classic.

Liv Tyler’s interview – ‘The Fighter’ – is a lot shorter at just under seventeen minutes but getting her time and input is priceless. Learning she is obsessed with horror movies, and all the right horror movies, makes her all the more likeable, and she seems open and unguarded – happy to talk about challenges and how her love for the genre helped her performance.

‘Cutting Moments’ is the editor interview and clocks in at forty-three minutes. Having also cut the Saw franchise, Greutert knows his onions when it comes to putting together a horror movie and for anyone interested in the art of editing this is an extremely inspirational piece. It’s a great extra that isn’t afraid to deep-dive into a specialist’s function and his talk of shot selection and pacing are fascinatingly insightful.

Laura Margolis plays “Pin-Up Girl” (the one with kiss-curl) and getting to hear from one of the baddies evens out the bonus features, it is especially nice to actually hear her voice after her not saying a word in the film itself. Although she didn’t get to speak in the film, we find out that she actually first got involved due to standing in for Liv Tyler reading opposite potential James’ when they were still casting Speedman’s part.

‘The Element of Terror’ is an archive making-of that is ten minutes long and provides lots of cool behind the scenes looks at the set and the mechanics and elements of the film being put together. ‘Strangers at the Door’ is another ten-minute archive extra that gives time to Speedman and the guy who plays the sack face killer – voices previously unheard from – and focuses more on how the film’s feelings of terror were created.

The film’s original trailer rounds out the set alongside a collection of five-minutes worth of deleted scenes. As in most cases, you can see why they were cut, mostly here it feels due to pacing and not explaining something to the audience needlessly when they will get the gist as it goes along anyway. Still, it’s cute to see more of Kristen and James in two scenes: at the wedding, and in their bedroom during the initial siege.

A modern horror classic with an excellent extras package, The Strangers is released on limited edition Blu-ray on the 28th of September.

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