The Strangers is built entirely on a twist. The narrative twist is a very dangerous device in movies, and it very rarely pays off. The eventual reversal isn’t worth the narrative gymnastics the movie has to go through to pull it off, all of it leading to an ending that lands with a resounding thud. Incredible production values and mostly strong acting do offer much to ease the pain of the twist, all of it adding up to a decidedly mixed experience.
The film follows a family (parents Johnny Revilla and Cherry Pie Picache, twin kids Enrique Gil and Julia Montes, grandfather Jaime Fabregas, and helper Janice de Bellen) as they make a roadtrip to Murcia. After a strange encounter on a bridge, their van breaks down in the middle of nowhere. As night falls, the family is welcomed to a nearby village in the middle of the forest. The villagers warn the family of a lone hunter named Dolfo (Enchong Dee) who they suspect is an aswang. But there is something more going on in the woods, and before the night ends, there will come a reckoning.
The first half of the movie is mostly spent getting to know the family. The film establishes that there exists plenty of tension between each of them. Twins Max and Pat don’t get along. Grandfather Pete doesn’t like his son-in-law Roy, who seems to always be on the phone dealing with business. And so on. The film spends a good amount of time setting up what makes these characters tick, which is usually a pretty good thing.
But then the movie starts building towards its twist. It tries to build tension by hiding the true identity of the threat, laying out red herrings and providing plenty of misdirection. It has characters talking vaguely about things, trying desperately to hide the true nature of the conversation. And then the twist finally arrives. Obviously I can’t talk about it in too much detail. I will say that I don’t think it works, and that the path to achieving the twist effect isn’t worth the effort.
Once you get past the twist, the film goes into full-blown action mode. Director Lawrence Fajardo and Director of Photography Louie Quirino are miracle workers as far as I’m concerned. It’s difficult to think of any production anywhere that looks as lush and as sharp as any of their collaborations. Strong special effects work enhances the action. The difference here is that the monsters feel like they have weight, and the actors interact with them in more solid ways. The acting is strong enough. Cherry Pie Picache provides solid grounding for everything. The younger members of the cast tend to overplay their emotions, but they do a solid enough job in the end.
The failure of The Strangers’ twist is most highlighted in its abrupt and unsatisfying ending. It feels like there’s so much more story to be told, so much more ground to cover with this conceit. But the film doesn’t get to go there. It was only built to deliver the short-term thrills of having a reversal in its story. It doesn’t really seem to have anything to follow up with. Still, one must acknowledge the great skill put into the production of this picture. The talent and ingenuity displayed on screen is tremendous. The story just doesn’t live up to it.