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Monday, December 17, 2012

Why "The Strangers" Pissed Me off

The Strangers (2008)
I just finished watching "The Stranger" on Netflix. I've been meaning to watch if for years now. All my horror-buddies have seen it and love it. And even though I can see why they loved it, my over all feeling is...I'm pissed.

Don't get me wrong. I loved this movie. Sort of. I mean, it's creepy as hell. I sat on the edge of the couch gripping the remote control. When my fiancĂ© pulled into the driveway, I turned on the lights and opened the door. I didn't want to jump when the door opened.  For about an hour I was panting, on the verge of biting my nails. At the end I was crossing my fingers hoping that the great movie didn't end up in the obligatory "torture porn". Mercifully it didn't happen. The end is tasteful, understated and I loved it.

And yet, I numb to the ending. I realized I was actually, strangely, furious.


I decided to write this blog to help me find out why I was so angry. It worked.

The writing and directing is wonderful. Thank you Bryan Bertino. As a writer I appreciate the prevalence of "show don't tell". There are only a few "jump out of your seat" moments. The real scares are slow. Patient. They get under your skin. The acting is excellent. It's nice to see Liv Tyler showing a different side to her acting skills. Also, Scott Speedman proves to be more than a pretty face. He is vulnerable at times, heroic at others. I like that the director chose actors known for action films and made them more human.The cinematography is excellent and the use of sounds is everything you could look for in a scary movie. Everyone is doing their job well.

None of that explains why it pissed me off so much.

I had a similar reaction way back in 2003 watching Wrong Turn. I liked the movie but there was one part near the beginning that pissed me off. Not annoyed me. It ticked me off so profoundedly I decided to re-write the movie doing and make things work out differently. It was the catelyst for my novel "Council of Peacocks". In the end, the correlation between Wrong Turn and my novel is almost unrecognizable. Just as I'm sure most people would not see the relation between Night of the Comet and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  If you don't believe me on this last connect, Google it. Joss Whedon has talked it about it repeatedly.

The Strangers is a movie based on our fundamental fight or flight instinct. The victims in this movie try to run. I am a fighter. It ticks me off when people don't fight back.

And here's where I think the difference is. There is one part of North American culture that lives a life of ease. It is very rare for them to experience horror. We look at recent events in Connecticut and it fills us with dread. But I live right next door to Detroit. Do you have any idea how often kids are killed in Detroit?  Gun shots and murder are common place. I remember taking a bus late at night heading from Royal Oak to Detroit. A guy walked onto the bus with sawed-off shotgun. Things were tense but, obviously, I made it out alive. In the same area, it was common practice at the time for bored people to shoot at passing buses.

So if "The Strangers" took place in Detroit, it would be a completely different movie. There, if some strangers are harassing you it's game on. You take those suckers down. There is no running. And there is no waiting for the police either. You deal with it.

Story: Man Shot in Bus in Detroit

The characters in this movie are so complacent. And I think that is an intentional part of the movie's subtext.  The opening scenes show well-kept wealthy homes in the country. The only hint of poverty is in the grotesque truck of the bad guys. Part of the underlying dread is the theme "even in your quiet homes bad things can happen." And just as the bad guys here never mention a motivation, in real life you may never know why the bad things happen to you.

No shit.

In large parts of the world, not to mention large areas of the U.S. the bad stuff is the norm; happy, peaceful lives are the exception.

And I think that's why The Stranger's pissed me off. The big scare is that there is no place safe. Maybe if I'd seen the movie back in 2008 I would have a different opinion. Now, after years of riots around the world, natural disasters every time you blink and mass murders happening more and more frequently, the underlying message just seems stupid.

Which makes the ending hollow and empty.

On the plus side, I have extra fuel for my current novel. This is why artists need to experience other work. Learning what we don't like can be just as important as what we do like.

Having said all that, if you like horror or scary movies, I would recommend the movie. I really enjoyed it, even though it made me very, very angry.


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