• Strangers, The (Collector’s Edition)



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: March 6th, 2018.
    Director: Bryan Bertino
    Cast: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman
    Year: 2008
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    The Movie:

    Written and directed by Bryan Bertino, The Strangers, his debut picture, was somewhat of a sleeper hit when Universal released it to theaters in the first half of 2008. The film revolves around a very simple premise – a couple, James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) have gone off to his family’s house out in the middle of nowhere. James proposed to Kristen but she wasn’t ready to accept so tensions are running a little high and emotions are a bit on the funky side. In the middle of the night, a woman knocks on the door and asks for someone who doesn’t live there. They tell her to go away and she does… for a while. Once James goes out for a bit Kristen starts hearing things and seeing things and she’s sure that there’s someone else in the house with her.

    James comes home and sure enough, a woman with a doll mask, another woman in a strange mask, and a man with a burlap sack over his face are causing problems in and around the house for the pair. James scrounges around the house and find’s his father’s old shotgun but it might not be enough to stop these three strange people from needlessly terrorizing them.

    The Strangers is, at its core, a very simple home invasion story. The plot is amazingly basic but despite its simplicity the movie is more interesting than you might think. Bertino proves adapt at building some legitimate suspense and while the pay off is generally little more than a jump scare, at least they’re good jump scares. Unfortunately, while the first half of the film builds really nicely to a genuinely scary atmosphere, the last half feels redundant and the finale just doesn’t pay off as well as it should. The result is a pretty uneven picture that benefits from some great visuals and some scenes of legitimate tension but which doesn’t live up to its promise.

    Performance wise, both Speedman and Tyler do a fine job with the material. They’re perfectly believable and even if the whole engagement sub-plot feels superfluous and adds nothing, it’s not hard to picture them as a couple. They’re a good fit in that regard. The movie also does a very good job of making a fairly normal house a scary place to be by playing with the shadows and the dark corners of the home very effectively. Good use of sound and music also help to heighten the tension during a few key scenes as well, making it an even bigger shame that the ‘set it up for a sequel’ ending plays out the way it does.

    Oh, and bonus points for using Merle Haggard’s music in the movie.

    NOTE: The Blu-ray release of The Strangers contains both the theatrical and the unrated cuts of the film. The unrated version doesn’t differ much from the theatrical cut, but it does contain a few extra stabs and a little bit more on screen violence during the film’s finale.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Both cuts of The Strangers, each presented on their own 50Gb disc (the R-rated cut taking up just over 27GBs of space and the uncut version just over 28GBs of space), looks pretty good in this 2.35.1 1080p AVC encoded anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film has a brown tint to it for much of its running time and the color scheme used in the movie makes heavy use of earth tones. As such, this isn’t a particularly colorful film but the shades and hues used to create the film’s atmosphere are nicely replicated though these HD transfers. Black levels are strong throughout and while there are certainly more detailed Blu-ray discs out there to marvel at, there’s a lot to look at here – the close ups are nice and sharp even some of the medium and further away shots are a tiny bit on the soft side (sometimes this is an intentional focus issue on the part of the cinematographer).

    Both versions of the movie are presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Optional subtitles are included English only. The audio on this release is pretty impressive. Certain scenes really benefit from the uncompressed mix’s range, such as the scene where the record skips, and the 5.1 mix really does a great job of enhancing the jump scares that the movie relies so heavily on. This is a really enveloping mix that succeeds in sucking you into the film by clever use of the rear channels and some nice, powerful moments where the bass kicks in quite nicely. Dialogue stays clean and clear and there aren’t any problems at all with hiss or distortion. Some of the whispered dialogue is a bit low but then again, it’s supposed to be. Regardless, this is a very impressive mix that really takes fill advantage of the formats capabilities.

    Extras are spread across the two discs in the set. Disc one starts off with The Elements Of Terror, a featurette where the cast and crew discuss how scary the movie is, what sets is apart from other horror films, and what it was like working with one another on the film. It isn’t particularly deep but it does at least give us some insight into what writer/director Bertino was going for with this project. Aside from that, disc one also contains two brief deleted, a few TV spots and a theatrical trailer for the feature.

    Disc two contains a few new interviews, starting with writer/director Bryan Bertino who talks for half an hour about his love of horror movies even as a child, how he and his sister grew up in the middle of nowhere and how a lot of what he experienced in his younger days informed The Strangers when he was making it. He then goes on to talk about how he got into the film business, what happened to the script before it eventually got made in the form we know it in now, his thoughts on what various members of the cast and crew were able to bring to the film, what it was like on set during the shoot and lots more. Up next is actor Kip Weeks who speaks for twelve minutes about auditioning for the part, the uniqueness of the role, what it was like on set, shooting out in the middle of nowhere, having to sing a song to land the part, how he was inspired by a gorilla, and what it was like playing basically the entire film with a mask on and having to stay in that character for so long. Last but not least, actress Laura Margolis appears in front of the camera for fourteen minutes. She talks about how much she loved working with Bertino, her thoughts on the character, working with the mask she had to wear for the duration of the film, the fact that in many ways it is a very quiet film, the cast and mouse aspect of the story, and what it was like working with Tyler and Speedman. The second disc also contains a still gallery.

    Not mentioned on the packaging at all are a few other supplements on the second disc. Over the span of twenty-minutes editor Kevin Greutert talks about what made the movie different, how he was happy to be involved with a chapter in horror history and what he tried to bring to the film after working on the Saw films prior. He also talks about having to assemble footage that was shot in a very jumbled order into something coherent sometimes without much context, the importance of cutting the footage of the masked characters the right way, a continuity error or two that made their way into the movie and doing his best to help the film generate as much suspense as possible.

    Rounding out the extras are some nifty animated menus and chapter selection. Both discs fits inside a standard sized Blu-ray keep case that also contains some reversible cover art and that in turn fits inside a slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    The Strangers isn’t a perfect film but it does have some really effective moments and some well timed jump scares. It won’t likely hold up to repeat viewings so well but some inspired cinematography and an effectively simple but well executed premise makes it worth a watch despite the unimpressive ending. Shout! Factory’s two-disc Blu-ray set carries over all of the extras from the older Universal disc and includes a few new ones as well, presenting the film in very nice shape and with excellent audio.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!