Starring: Scott Speedman, Liv Tyler, Kip Weeks
Directed by: Bryan Bertino (debut)
Written by: Bryan Bertino (debut)

It looks like Hollywood is slowly straying away from Asian horror remakes and starting to see what the country of France can provide in the genre. With the release of French horror films including “High Tension,” “Frontiers” and “Inside” in the last few years, a European influence is definitely working its way toward American-made horror.

The latest evidence of this French connection is with the new horror/thriller “The Strangers,” which has an eerily similar synopsis to the French film “Them.” In “Strangers,” James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) find themselves being terrorized by a trio of masked individuals lurking outside their desolate vacation cabin.

First-time director and writer Bryan Bertino creates natural tension before the attacks begin by introducing us to James and Kristen as they experience some major relationship turmoil. James has just proposed to Kristen earlier that evening and, much to his disappointment, Kristen did not accept his offer.

Their gloomy evening takes a shocking turn for the worst when they receive a visitor at 4 a.m. looking for someone named “Tamra.” Even after telling the young girl that shows up at their doorstep that there is no one at the cabin by that name, the girl returns later that night with another girl and man, who begin to bang on the door, peer into the house, and creep around the vicinity.

Soon, James and Kristen realize that if they are going to survive the night, they will have to stay one step ahead of their assailants all while being trapped in a house with no connection to the outside world.

Aside from the lack of a plot, which basically does not matter for a film constructed in this manner, the weaknesses of the “The Strangers” start with the repetitiousness and unoriginality that start right after the first couple of frightening scenarios. People wearing masks and lurking in and out of the shadows is petrifying, yes, but when that’s all they do for a duration of the film, Bertino misses a chance to grab his audience by the throat and match the satisfactory work he does setting the tone.

Then comes the horror clichés: the uncharged cell phones, the couple separating during the time when they should really be as close to each other as possible, the part where Kristen darts outside only to fall and twist her ankle, which, of course, causes her to limp around for the rest of the movie. It’s all been seen before in other horror films, and in “Strangers,” none of it works to its narrative’s advantage.

Although Bertino manages to keep the anxiety at a peak for the first half of the film with his minimalist efforts (Tyler adds on to this by looking like she is always a second away from having a nervous breakdown with each bump in the night she hears), the emotional impact declines in the waning moments as “The Strangers” becomes more and more similar to less suspenseful films of the past.

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