Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Everyone’s bolted upright, tiptoeing through darkness in heart-pumping shock to investigate a loud nighttime thud. It’s often nothing, but the stomach-pit impulse that it’s something can splinter the nerves.
A fright-fest from which all fat was trimmed, 2008’s The Strangers depicted what happens if it is the incessant pounding of evil that will get in — someone to whom provocation is playtime to poke and prod until those inside are lifeless rags.
There’s no better feet-on-the-seat execution for the home-invasion genre than this, and the concussive shock of an unexpectedly collapsed relationship is a tough, terse and perfect hook on which to hang a story of random, rotten luck.
Kristen (Liv Tyler) has rejected James’s (Scott Speedman) marriage proposal, and their torpedoed romantic overnight at his family’s estate turns bloodcurdling with the arrival of a persistent woman on the doorstep and a relentless siege on the house.
Even in broad daylight, The Strangers twists the knife with scenes lasting a beat longer than normal to maximize dread and sound design excavating a hole in your cortex and nestling there.
Writer-director Bryan Bertino also never offers chicken-out exposition. Reason would be something with which James and Kristin could bargain. They never acquire that luxury, their desperate helplessness more unnerving than gore.
As is the way of malice, these intruders seem to simply materialize from thin air and inflict permanent damage. The Strangers suggested true evil has stood beside us all at some point. Just be thankful if it hasn’t met your gaze.