What’s more terrifying than a group of killers coming after you with no rationality or purpose? What’s scarier than faceless people turning your comfortable setting into an inescapable nightmare?
As 2008’s The Strangers proved, not much.
4 of 5 stars
Not rated, 91 minutes. Available Tuesday on Blu-ray through shoutfactory.com or at Movie Trading Co.
For those unfamiliar: The Strangers centers on a couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) who are maliciously stalked by three masked killers with no apparent cause, resulting in an impeccably horrific home invasion thriller that cuts deep as a knife. But what makes the film so chilling is the cold, heartless nature of the stalkers. This is very much one of those films that makes you sleep with the lights on and awake at any unsettling sounds, because it’s a disturbing scenario that could happen to anyone.
For its 10th anniversary, Scream Factory is supplying the film with a beautifully packaged collector’s edition that contains the R-rated theatrical cut and the terror-filled uncut version. It also carries all-new interviews with the filmmakers and cast — most notably writer-director Bryan Bertino (The Monster), who, for nearly 30 minutes, discusses the impact the film had on its genre and audiences, as well as his unsettling inspirations.
Though the central couple occasionally acts foolishly (the boyfriend leaving behind his girlfriend twice), The Strangers expertly builds its tension through character development and stillness. It’s not too often you get a sturdy home invasion movie (maybe Hush). So this restored edition should have you excited about the madness that’s sure to happen with this week’s release of its sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night.
Extras: The Scream Factory release also includes a previously released behind-the-scenes and making-of, deleted scenes, TV spots and theatrical trailer.
Thor: Ragnarok (3.5 stars) From the very first scene, Thor: Ragnarok (the third feature in the Thor standalone films) punches you in the face with its vibrant colors and gut-bustingly terrific comedy.
In the film, Thor (played once more with feeling by Chris Hemsworth) and his mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) find themselves on a distant landfill of a planet known as Sakaar.
They've had a brief run-in with their long lost older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), known as the "Goddess of Death." She wants to rule Thor's homeworld of Asgard and have its people kneel before her, and it's up to Thor and his friends (Mark Ruffalo and Tessa Thompson, among others) to stop her before the galaxy falls into oblivion.
While not exactly the most inventive narrative from the Marvel canon, the development of its characters is what causes Ragnarok to soar above most sequels. It also helps that Taika Waititi (director of What We Do in the Shadows) recognizes that Thor isn't a character that should be taken too seriously. As true as it is that we are so many movies into the universe, and constantly question when we'll grow tired of these superhero journeys, a new filmmaker enters to give it a pulse again — almost to the point where one wishes Waititi would remake the first two Thor movies with the same infectious energy.
Extras: A director’s introduction, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, an exclusive short, a Marvel examination, a director’s commentary and several behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Lady Bird (4.5 stars) This wonderful coming-of-age title has been the little engine that could of the awards season. Greta Gerwig (actor/writer of Mistress America) is up for directing and writing honors. Considering she has a knack for injecting her stories with resonance and nuance, she very well could snag the golden statues she deserves.
Anchored by career-defining turns by Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) and the perfect on-screen dad, Tracy Letts (The Post), Gerwig hatches a story about a strong-willed teenager who tries to make something of herself as she journeys to adulthood.
Lady Bird is a bittersweet film that uncovers all the big moments of high school (the parties, first loves and breakups), while also bringing forth a new, interesting perspective to those self-defining years. It’s pure delight.
Rated R, 93 minutes.
Extras: A making-of featurette and a filmmaker’s commentary.
Murder on the Orient Express (2.5 stars) It’s fun to engage in whodunit movies. But when a movie is more pleasing to look at than its puzzle is to solve, why climb aboard?
Available today for purchase, Murder on the Orient Express has a Wes Anderson-worthy ensemble cast (featuring Daisy Ridley, Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer), but it has more characters than it knows what to do with. Some talent — such as Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe and Judi Dench — is just there to make faces at the camera and mutter a few lines.
Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation isn’t painstakingly awful. There are some nuggets of wisdom, nice wardrobes and scenic snow-covered landscape shots. Aside from taking a gander at Branagh’s even more mysterious mustache as lead detective Hercule Poirot, it wouldn’t be unwise if you left this one chugging along.
Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Extras: A filmmaker’s commentary, an intimate portrait of mystery author Agatha Christie, a featurette on Branagh’s character, deleted scenes and more.
Also available this week: Blue Planet II, The Breadwinner, Clapper, Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 9, The Dark Crystal (1982): Anniversary Edition, Faces Places, Fangs of the Living Dead, The Man Who Invented Christmas, Novitiate, Scorched Earth and Wonder Wheel.
PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work on FreshFiction.tv. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.
FEATURED IMAGE: James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) won't answer the door in a terrifying suspense thriller The Strangers. The film is about a couple whose remote getaway becomes a place of terror when masked strangers invade.