The Rotten Truth: The Strangers, Too

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Another film hit by sequelitis, but can it work?

Pocketing a healthy $55.8 million worldwide gross, the modestly-budgeted thriller (estimated at $9 million) called The Strangers was an unknown factor. Plagued by a delay that bumped it from the summer of 2007 to the outskirts of this year’s blockbuster season, the positive thing the film had going for it was an effective marketing campaign. Talk to anyone about it and they’d say, “That trailer was great!” Ultimately, it was a success and a film destined for franchise, with or without writer-director Bryan Bertino. The fellas at Rogue – not ones to screw around – decided it was in their best interest to bring the young Texan back to at least pen the inevitable sequel while juggling two other projects he has set up under Andrew Rona’s regime. Because, as sources tell us, Rogue is “aggressively pursuing” a follow-up, something tells us we’ll be seeing the Man in the Mask and his two home-hoppin’ masked hotties sooner than later.

Bertino, in a past interview, expressed his interest in a sequel to me, but only if there was a story to tell. That sentiment has been echoed in my own conversations with the producers of the film. The grim denouement of the first film certainly teases there could be more to come, but the big question is: What would that entail? The Strangers is one of those perfect exercises in fear a newbie director can cut his teeth on. Something to put him on the map with a lean story and inventive execution. It’s a funhouse film with scares around every corner. Get in, scare ’em half to death, and get out. Roll credits. How does one follow up on that? Let’s take a look at Bertino’s myriad possibilities and challenges:

• Liv Tyler. Variety says “the expectation is that Liv Tyler” will return. Is that the reporter’s hope or Rogue’s? Even if Liv’s character didn’t die (although I wish she had), is it realistic to believe the actress would come back for a horror sequel? Let’s say she does, reprising her role as survivor Kristen McKay. What journey does Bertino take her on? One of newfound empowerment where she takes a cue from Linda Hamilton and hunts those bastards who killed her man. Or, maybe she can carries on with her life, similar to Sidney Prescott of the Scream series, until, inexplicably, the Strangers find her again to finish what they started. I vote for a cameo a la Adrienne King in Friday the 13th Part 2 or Jay Hernandez in Hostel: Part II. Then introduce new protagonists.

• The scenario. One of the strengths of Bertino’s first film is the setting. Here’s a quaint home, a couple’s personal space, violated by three masked intruders who seemingly come and go as they please. Bertino can’t revisit this ground; in fact, he should stay very far away from setting his Strangers loose on another domicile. So, again, where does the terror unfold? Whatever it is, it needs to lend itself to that same level of comfort one finds in their home, so when the Strangers come to shatter their serenity, it makes the sense of unease all the sweeter.

• The Strangers. There will be someone in the creation process of the sequel – be it an exec, or maybe even Bertino himself – who will want to offer the trio some backstory. Maybe there’ll even be a flirtation to unmask one of these killers. Don’t. Personally, I think that would be mucho unwise. Far too many screen villains have lost their horrifying mystique because of unnecessary prequels or forced exposition. That said, how does one avoid giving away too much about the Strangers but still keep them fresh? That’s the tricky part. You can offer new scare tactics. Give them a new environment. But if you present a reason for doing that thing they do so well it flies in the face of the first film’s chilling line “Because you were home.”

Like I said, there are many different avenues to explore. There’s even the topic of “time.” Bertino can easily set the events of a sequel in the same night – except it precedes the attack on Kristen and James (yes, a prequel) and explains the whole “Is Tamara here? thing (maybe she was a “Stranger” who fled her pals). Or, in ’80s slasher fashion, the sequel pick up hours later.

I’m rambling…

Look, whatever he chooses to do, he has to take The Strangers to the next level, but hold onto those simple elements that made the concept arguably work in the first place. If he paints the next story on a wider canvas with a large cast or unneeded explanations or suggestions that the Strangers are servants of some cult, pound a nail through my skull now. The first film left room for refinement; next time, think progressive but continue to keep it basic and keep it primal.

Source: Ryan Rotten