Modern horror has found itself at something of a crossroads. In the late 90’s, the genre hit its potential intelligence peak with the Scream movies, not to mention the Scary Movie‘s, which brought wit, irony and, most importantly, self-awareness to horror. It spelt out the stupidly abided by rules that stupid/horny teenages abide by when confronted with a masked killer, so everything that followed those movies and followed those rules would be deemed as stupid and dated. Which presented a bit of a problem since as much as we’re screaming “Don’t go out there!” to the cheerleader in her underwear investigating a strange sound in the woods, we all secretly get a rush of adrenalin in anticipation of her decapitation.
So in retaliation to Wes Craven’s humiliation of horror, some directors looked to Asia for remakes of ghost stories, whiles other directors got nasty. Very nasty. Hostel and its gorier sequel, The Hills Have Eyes and its stupider sequel, Wrong Turn, the temporarily revitalised then re-destroyed Texas Chainsaw Massacre films; all put violence ahead of story and, more importantly, actual scares. Blood and guts are gross, but no necessarily frightening. And so another retaliation was born; a mid-point between the smarts of the 90’s and the splats of the 00’s. And with it, came another broken rule; out went the hot teenages, in came mid-30’s couples. Vacancy, Them (of which The Strangers seems to be a loose remake) and the upcoming Mirrors all have older folk, wiser folk, dealing with grown up scary things.
And now here we are. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are an attractive mid-30’s couple who are staying at Speedman’s parents remote cottage in the woods for a romantic weekend away, which isn’t going entirely to plan. For one thing, he’s proposed and she’s said no. But more importantly, some woman keeps knocking at the door asking for her friend…… And thats pretty much your lot. The film is shockingly short (75 minutes including end credits!), so not given the chance to outstay its welcome, and Tyler and Speedman are pretty much the only people you’ll see for the whole show. It takes about 20 minutes for the film to switch from creepy “There’s someone outside” flick to out-and-out home invasion horror, with plenty of jump out of your seat moments to enjoy. The problem is you probably won’t react to any of them, which brings us to horror’s other major problem.
Trailers. Modern horror films all have the same trailers; which go a little something like this: “Oh, did you hear something/that old story about blah blah killer blah/its someone’s anniversary at midnight tonight?” — Attractive people kiss/are about to get it on, then something scary happens. — Someone goes to investigate something, then something scary happens. — Then its the end of the trailer, and its FLASHCUTFLASHCUTFLASHCUTFLASHCUT. — Then it goes all quiet and someone is hiding somewhere and a hand comes out of nowhere and that someone screams and then thats it.
If you’ve seen the trailer for The Strangers, then you’ve seen a very effective horror movie trailer, particularly that jumping record of a creepy song, which gets about 7 minutes actual screen time in the movie. But also, if you’ve seen the trailer for The Strangers, then you’ve already seen how practically every tense scene ends, thereby removing all tension from the scene. Admittedly, there are still one or two scenes that still scare, and there are also one or two surprises in store, but its all secondary to the fact that due to the films significantly short length, the fact that you’ve seen the trailer means you’ve seen a larger percentage of the movie than normal.
Tyler and Speedman are fine, and the directing is fine, and the script is fine, cinematography, editing, sound effects, everything is fine, more than fine for a horror movie. Its all a very classily made affair, with nothing to fault excepts its unoriginality. Which is probably the horror genre’s biggest hurdle to date. And its going to take a strong retaliation to work that one out.
Five Point Five Out Of Ten