Tuesday, October 21, 2008

31 Days Of Horror. Day #8: The Strangers




Horror movies are all about pressure points. The best tap into primal areas of unease, hitting us in our animal instinct, distant echoes of the feeling of beening hunted, lost, and in the dark. Some even create new ones. For example, before I saw The Strangers I had no idea that I feared a group of people in creepy masks coming to my house at four in the morning and killing me for fun. Yet since I’ve seen The Strangers, the thought has occurred to me several times at three in the morning when in the grips of Insomnia I go out for a cigarette and am forced to stare down the long deserted suburban roads surrounding my apartment. Thanks a lot movies!

I make no qualms about the fact that as far as I’m concerned The Strangers is the straight up most terrifying movie of the new decade. The idea is simplicity itself, a couple on the verge of breaking up after a failed marriage proposal drives to the rural family home of the man. If you walked into the film blind, you might think you where watching a simple Richard Linklater character study for the first fifteen minutes or so, then comes a knock on the door, a woman asks for a man that neither of the couple has ever heard of.

Things start to go awry very quickly. Starting with simple harassment, and ending with… well best to discover for yourself. The Strangers is so great because so much of it flies into direct opposition of horror today. Rather then scaring the audience with cheap editing tricks and loud noises The Strangers is a very quite film, shot in long takes, that draw most of their terror from negative space. Every shot contains a place where one of The Strangers could fill, and even if nothing horrifying is happening, you’re on the edge of your seat wating to see if they’ll show up or not, such as in what has quickly become the film's most famous shot, fifty two seconds into the trailer.



While it’s not exactly a gore free film, The Strangers body count is almost absurdly low next to the overkill of torture porn, even the most intense and terrifying scenes are such because of what their implications are, rather then what they show. It's telling that the films biggest scare comes not from a bit of violence, but the simple indifference of a line reading.

When watching Modern movies it’s always a bit of a crap shoot as far as what will last and what will fade. Instant classics fade from memory in half a decade, and the most maligned films often stay with audiences for a long long while. This year I’ve so far seen three films, that I think will be with film fans for decades. The Strangers is one of them, it’ll be scaring people for a very long time.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

This movie is brilliant. It seems to have the same sensibilities as a good Silent Hill scare (the beginning of SH2 comes to mind, with the forest path).

There aren't many jump scares, but more scares from the implications of what you're seeing. The audience is given time to think about things, draw conclusions, and become horrified by what they've concluded.

I also appreciate that the characters react the way real people would very likely react. It's scarier when the protagonist(s) tries their honest best, acts as smart as they can, and still faces such grueling situations.