Generally, I really liked this one. I remember it being one of the first in a long time to really get to me. And I love Scott Speedman (I have a special place in my heart for Felicity right next to all this blood and gore).
That said, it isn’t without some issues.
For a first-time horror filmmaker, the writing and direction of The Strangers is actually quite mature. There’s enough character development to make Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman into a couple of sympathetic characters without slowing the movie’s pace, and enough creepy scene setting to keep you at the edge of your seat (or your fingernails chewed to the quick) throughout.
I get the sense that Bryan Bertino genuinely understands what scares audiences, but caved to either the pressure of “everyone else is doing it” or studio pressure to be more like the rest of the slasher drivel that was playing at the time. The insistence on the “found footage” camera effects without actually committing to being a “found footage” film and the weird back and forth timeline are particularly glaring inessentials.
Ultimately, this would have been better as a linear film and without the over the top narration at the beginning. Calling something “inspired by true events” is meaningless at best and an overused cliche at worst, and completely unnecessary for effect here.
I do like that you don’t really need to know the “whys” behind what’s happening to feel the terror mounting — which is particularly good since those answers aren’t forthcoming. There’s just enough gore and death to make this a good slasher film without being sickening, if you don’t count the dizziness-inducing Handycam effect.
Also, much to my surprise and relief, the terrified couple doesn’t make one poor choice after another — their attackers are simply relentless and unforgiving, which makes each turn of cat-and-mouse tense and unpredictable…and if there’s one thing I love about horror movies, it’s unpredictable realism.