The strangest, most intriguing thing about The Strangers is that the two main characters are already dead -- before the masked psychopaths even show up outside their door. (Don't worry, that's not a spoiler.)
Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are metaphorically dead. Their relationship is on the rocks; there isn't a trace of love or joy between them -- or in either of them, for that matter. It's clear they've sucked each other dry and they're staying together out of habit. This is how the film draws us in: We pity the characters, and it'd be great to see if they can kick-start their relationship -- provided they can avoid getting stabbed to death first.
Just who are these masked strangers, and why do they want to kill this couple? As you watch the film, you'll find these questions aren't all that important, which is good, because you'll never know the reasons, anyway. In fact, there don't seem to be any reasons to murder them at all. Presumably inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, director Bryan Bertino is breaking a traditional filmmaking rule by giving us antagonists who don't have a motive. That's a respectable decision, because psycho killers in movies never have very valid or interesting reasons to kill people anyway.
Bertino, however, makes a mistake when he breaks another rule -- by showing the ending of the movie at the beginning. We've seen it done before (think Memento), but it doesn't work in Strangers. A title screen in the introduction says this movie is based on a true event, and FBI agents still don't really know what happened to this couple. OK, well, that means they're going to die, right?
That's great -- so we know the two main characters are going to die. Where is the element of surprise? What is there left to hope for? What is there left to anticipate? In effect, all we can do now is wait for Kristen and James to croak. And that's just a disappointing mistake, because the actors do a fine job at getting us to feel sorry for them -- like I said earlier, drawing us in -- but knowing they're going to die only pushes us away.
Don't get me wrong: Strangers is really scary. Tyler has the perfect scream to get you shaking in your seat. The villains' minimalist masks and the way they slither around in the dark add up to a 10 on the "creepy" scale. And you can tell they're getting a sadistic kick out of torturing the poor couple.
But after about 45 minutes of watching the masked villains chase Kristen and James around the house with various melee weapons, you'll probably wonder how long this premise can go on for. Fortunately, Strangers ends just before it's about to putter out -- with a surprisingly short run time of just 90 minutes.
Did I mention there's a line at the end of the movie that opens the door to a sequel? It's difficult to imagine how Bertino could possibly use the same chase-and-stab premise if he makes a part two. Perhaps he should hand off the baton to someone who loves making bad sequels, like Brett Ratner: He'd give us a horror movie with a love triangle, explosions, and maybe a car chase... if we're lucky.
If she'd made the bed this wouldn't have happened.