There have been dozens of horror movies in recent years, but “The Strangers” is different in that it’s actually good.


There have been dozens of horror movies in recent years, but “The Strangers” is different in that it’s actually good.

Not great, mind you, but good. It passes the most important test: It’ll make you shiver. No blood or gore, just the more terrifying power of suggestion.

Old school, yes. But its creator, writer-director Bryan Bertino, is younger than most of the movies that obviously influenced his shaping of a tale about a young couple terrorized by a trio of masked intruders.

What’s interesting is how Bertino so efficiently adheres to constructs of the genre while also turning them on their ear, especially in his choice of making two of the three perpetrators women.

Bertino is also efficient and economical, taking less than 85 minutes to construct a leisurely but intriguing setup, develop empathetic characters and then scare the bejesus out of you in the final half hour.

The film also undergoes some remarkably smooth shifts in tone and style, with the only constant being its two surprisingly strong stars, Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler, actors you wouldn’t immediately think of as right for the genre.

Both are superb, though, especially in their ability to add layers to Bertino’s deceptively complex script. Usually their roles, lovers in the middle of a romantic rift, would be mere chum for an over-the-top fiend. But Bertino and his stars go for something deeper, creating characters with an authenticity and likeability that allows them to heighten the chills with steady doses of drama.

We first meet their Kristen and James after they depart a friend’s wedding reception for the summer home owned by James’ father, a house littered with rose petals and stocked with chilled champagne in anticipation of Kristen accepting James’ marriage proposal.

The tears streaming down Kristen’s cheeks make it clear, though, the night did not go well. Nor will what’s left of it, after the young lovers make the mistake of answering a thundering knock at their door at 4 a.m.

It’s a woman asking for someone named Tamara.

Told there’s no such person there, the visitor leaves, only to return minutes later with her two masked friends ready to go all Charlie Manson on their butts. It will end grimly, too, an outcome established in the film’s opening scene as two teenaged missionaries come upon a house splattered in blood and broken glass.

Bertino then flashes back a few hours to recount the events that led up to the boys’ gruesome discovery.

Like the great suspense pictures of the 1970s (“Don’t Look Now,” “Deliverance”), “The Strangers” uses long, eerie silences that allow his two leads to communicate fear through haunting expressions rather than blood-curdling screams.

Bertino also wisely forgoes equally tired devices of creaking doors and critters leaping out of dark corners, going instead for more effective psychological scares. They work, too. Well, at least most of the time.

For all its innovation and daring, “The Strangers” occasionally suffers from the same slips in plausibility and rational thinking that plague lesser films of the genre. And in what’s meant to be the movie’s most haunting moment, he dilutes the impact by being too obvious.

Still, even with the flaws, Bertino runs laps around the competition simply by being different, be it his choice of actors or his decision to give the three intruders (played by Kip Weeks, Gemma Ward and Laura Margolis) neither motive or identity, purposely keeping their faces obscured throughout.

What you do see are their eyes, each pair more dead and unfeeling than the next. And to look into them is more unsettling than any bastion of torture porn could ever imagine. It will literally give you nightmares, and to horror fans, that’s a dream.

Grade: B

Rated R. “The Strangers” contains violence, terror and language.