Jolts and jumps galore in this unofficial remake of the Franco-Romanian chiller Them.
Spare, taut direction and script deal with characterisation quickly.
Timid Kristen (Tyler) and embittered James (Speedman) have a relationship on the skids – and then the funny games begin.
A slo-o-o-o-o-o-w build racks up the tension as a mysterious girl (Ward) comes calling at 4am asking after someone the couple has never heard of.
But, the knocking continues, becoming more aggressive, until the strangers begin an all-out assault on the secluded house and its inhabitants.
Rather than the ‘hoodie horror’ of Them, The Strangers sets its ambitions on creating new horror icons with the (possibly) father/mother/daughter killing squad, garbed in fright masks.
Beyond Them, debuting director Bertino has done his homework, riffing on home invasion classics Straw Dogs and Funny Games, borrowing jumps from Halloween and Night of the Living Dead, and lifting the “based on a true story” tag and sombre opening narration from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
But, his ruthlessly efficient ghost train ride knows where to put the camera, characters and audience for maximum shock value.
The first appearance of the mournful-masked intruder is a real spine-tingler, and a double bluff shotgun murder a terrific example of gleeful wrong-footing as Tomandandy and Merle Haggard’s country and western menaces the soundtrack.
Tyler and Speedman put trauma settings to 11, while the lean plot keeps rescue tantalisingly out of reach, showing signs of fatigue only in the final stretch.
No original and boasting a couple of major oversights (why would Kristen be barefoot if escape was top of her mind?), The Strangers remains an effective fear machine, closing with an ending that simultaneously offers a glimmer of hope and is still in the Carrie-climax pant-filling mould.
Delayed by over a year, but don’t let that fool you: this may be lightweight, but it knows what goes bump in the night.