Wednesday, September 16, 2020

THE STRANGERS (2008) (Second Sight Blu-ray Review)

Limited Edition Blu-ray

Label: Second Sight Films 
Release Date: September 28th 2020 
Rating: Cert: 15 
Duration: 86 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2:35:1)
Director: Bryan Bertino
Cast: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis,  Gemma Ward, Glenn Howerton

Home invasion thriller The Strangers (2008) opens with  couple James (Scott Speedman, Underworld) and Kristen (Liv Tyler, Lord of the Rings) driving out to a rural summer home that belongs to the family of James. The couple have just been at a wedding reception for a friend named Mike (Glenn Howerton, The Hunt) where James proposed to Kristen, who then turned him down... so the drive out to the country afterward is a bit uncomfortable and filled with silence. Once at the cabin there's a lingering tension but that is interrupted by an eerie knock at the door at 4 a.m.. Answering the door the startled couple find a young blonde woman asking for someone named Tamara. They tell her she has the wrong house and she leaves, but not before saying that she will see them later, and she's not lying about that either.

Later James leaves Kristen alone at the house while he goes to buy some smokes, while he is away she lights up the fireplace but the room quickly begins to fill with smoke, setting off the smoke detector. She manages to knock the squealing smoke detector off the ceiling but then comes another knock at the door, this time it's someone wearing a creepy doll mask. Frightened she closes the door and locks it, but then she begins to notice that certain items have been moved around inside the house, the smoke detector she left on the floor has been moved onto a chair and the cell phone she left charging has altogether disappeared. Frightened and unnerved she is frantic by the time James returns, and while he doesn't seem to believe her account at first he comes around when three masked strangers soon reveal themselves. The mysterious antagonists are Dollface (Gemma Ward, The Black Balloon), the Man in the Mask (Kip Weeks) and the creepy Pin-up Girl (Laura Margolis), three very quiet and quite creepy strangers who are intent on harming the young couple for reasons unknown, surrounding the home and setting about taunting the couple. 

This slice of home invasion is thick with dread and suspenseful atmosphere, the isolated setting is perfect for such an encounter, the lighting is creepily low-lit and the three motiveless masked-killers lurking around are absolutely terrifying in their wordless assault on the couple. The burlap sack masked killer was the most terrifying to me, bringing to mind the sack-headed Jason Vorhees from Friday the Thirteenth Part 2 or the character Scarecrow from the Batman comics. Violence comes by way of a shotgun blast to the face and some vicious stabbings, but this is not meant a gore film by any means, it's a deep tension film that has an uncomfortable stillness to it, punctuated by some good frights and bits of violence. What works for me is the unsettling creepiness of the masked characters, the hopeless situation the faltering lovers find themselves in, but something that works against it for me are the bad decisions made by our protagonists in the face of mortal danger. At one point they find a gun and some ammo, it's a great opportunity for survival but they don't handle the situation with a great deal of thoughtfulness, in fact they really fuck it up to be honest. Then again these are supposed to be average people, not tactical strategists, so maybe that's more realistic in the scheme of things, and if every character in a horror film made smart choices there would be a lot fewer scary movies to watch. There's a nice homage to a seminal slasher film when the Man in a Mask emerges from a dark hallway directly behind a character who doesn't even notice him, which brought to mind John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), and even though it's an homage it's still well done and gave me the goosebumps. 

This is a film I dragged wife to back when it hit the cinema in 2008, she hates scary movies and for the entirety of the film she was digging her fingernails right into my arm, it was quite an ordeal for her which is a testament to the effectiveness of the film. The actors really sell the dire situation their in, especially Tyler who is wonderful, and then that downer  ending is such a serious gut-punch. It's also nice that the flick is stylishly shot and has a great score with a sound design that amps up the melancholic tension. 

Audio/Video: The Strangers (2008) arrives on region B locked Blu-ray from Second Sight Films with both the theatrical and unrated versions coming from what looks to be the same HD master of the 2K digital intermediate previously licensed to Scream Factory by Universal for their 2-disc Blu-ray back in 2018. The 2.35:1 widescreen framed image looks great, this is a dark film and the black levels look are deep and inky with good shadow detail, the low-lit shadowy imagery really sets a proper tone for this one and the Blu-ray handles it well. Audio for both the theatrical and unrated cut of the film come by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround, the sound design has some creepy use of the surround channels, so crank up that surround and get ready to be creeped out and scared in equal measure, optional English subtitles are provided. The scream Factory Blu-ray release also included a stereo track, which is not found on this Second Sight release. 

Onto the extras Second Sight carry-over the archival extras from the previous Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Blu-ray including the 9-minute 'The Elements of Terror: interviews with cast and Crew', the 10-minute 'Strangers at the Door: interviews with Director Bryan Bertino and Cast', 5-minutes of deleted scenes and the 2-minute theatrical trailer.

Second Sight's release does not carry-over the Scream Factory produced extras, but offer over two and a half hours worth of new and exclusive content beginning with the nearly hour-long 'Because You Were Home: Interview with director Bryan Bertino', the 43-minute 'Cutting Moments: Interview with editor Kevin Greutert', the 17-minute 'The Fighter: Interview with actor Liv Tyler'  and the 20-minute 'The Pin-Up Girl: Interview with actor Laura Margolis'.  The new interviews are very good, we get plenty of talk about the making of the film, disagreements with the studio, the deleted scenes and why the identity of the strangers are not revealed, as well as some comment on the sequel for the film. It was also great to hear Liv Tyler talk about her early love of horror films, mentioning how she watched stuff like The Hand (1981), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) with her mom when she was young and how that affected her. 

We were only send a 'check disc' for the purpose of the review without the benefit of a case or extraneous packaging, but the retail copies of this limited edition set of 3000 also include a rigid slipbox with new artwork, a soft cover book with new essays by Anton Bitel and Mary Beth McAndrews and stills and behind-the-scenes images, plus a poster with new artwork. 

Special Features:
- Includes Theatrical Cut (85 min) and Extended Cut (87 min) 
- NEW! Because You Were Home: Interview with director Bryan Bertino (57 min) 
- NEW! Cutting Moments: Interview with editor Kevin Greutert (43 min) 
- NEW! The Fighter: Interview with actor Liv Tyler (17 min) 
- NEW! The Pin-Up Girl: Interview with actor Laura Margolis (20 min) 
- The Elements of Terror: Interviews with cast and Crew (9 min) 
- Strangers at the Door: interviews with Director Bryan Bertino and Cast (10 min) 
- Deleted Scenes (5 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) 
Limited edition Contents:
- Limited Edition Box Set of only 3,000
- Soft cover book with new essays by Anton Bitel and Mary Beth McAndrews plus stills and behind-the-scenes images
- Rigid Slipbox
- Poster with new artwork

Home invasion thriller The Strangers (2008) holds up for me even after multiple viewings this year alone, the atmosphere and dread generated by this eerie flick is top notch, never failing to deliver the chills. This time around while I was watching it a favor-needing neighbor knocked on my door during a particularly creepy section of the film causing me to spill my bowl of fruity pebbles! This limited edition UK release from Second Sight Films is fantastic, the new extras are not only lengthy, but deep-diving in their exploration of this flick, this set comes highly recommended.

More screenshots from the Blu-ray: