The year was 2008 and I had just had just moved to a new state where I knew no one, with a new baby and a (now ex) husband who was in the military and gone 80% of the time. On a rare night when my ex was home, I would go to the movies to have some alone time. When The Strangers was released, I was there on opening night, over the moon to be alone and enjoying the genre I love most after a hard day of changing diapers and folding laundry. When I say I was too scared to walk to my car after I saw The Strangers, I am not exaggerating; this movie TERRIFIED me to my core. I am sure a lot of my fear was based on being in a totally new area with no friends or family around with a helpless newborn depending on me to keep him safe, coupled with being on my own most of the time, but I’ve always loved horror that can strike a cord with me in that way.
Given how I feel about the first film, I was pretty pumped when I learned there would be a sequel to The Strangers. 2018 has not had a whole lot of horror, so we went into the theatre optimistic that The Strangers 2 could recapture some of the spooky glory. Welp, let’s just say that plan did not pan out. It’s hard to pinpoint just one complaint about The Strangers 2; the writing was laughable, the acting atrocious, especially from the teens, and nobody did anything that actually made any sense. The old “let’s split up!” trope was so frustratingly cliche, and the filmmakers decided to add a twist patriarchal nonsense when the movie Dad insisted on taking his teenage son with him to track down the killers, leaving his exasperated wife and rebellious teen daughter home to hold down the fort. The ending was also real stupid. All of what made the original incredible was gone; the slow-burn suspense, the cat and mouse dynamic, the relatability of the protagonists, the mystery of the killers with just a tiny hint of what kind of people they might be were all chopped in favor of cheap jump scares, cliches, and killers that were written like every other slasher (think Jason) rather than given unique attributes of their own.
I was disappointed but thems the breaks for horror fans. After watching this, I do what I often do after watching a less than stellar movie-I revisited other films in the sub-genre I absolutely love and I’ve got quite a few in the home invasion sub-genre. I’ve listed them in the order I saw them:
When a Stranger Calls (1979)
This was actually my first home invasion movie; I saw this bad boy at a sleepover (where I saw many a banned horror film in my childhood) and my third grade ass was scared shitless. As a child who was regularly left alone with babysitters, this really hit me in my core. I remember being distinctly frozen with fear at the line about checking on the children. I damn near screamed at the twist. I am sure the older cousins in my family who babysat really enjoyed me following them everywhere they went, including the bathroom, for fear that if I left their side the killer that was surely hiding in our house would take their chance and murder me.
I discovered this gem thanks to a fellow horror fan on a mommy chat group, but sadly I accidentally came across the spoiler when I was doing my research on where I could watch this film. I feel like going in blind without knowing the twist would pack a much bigger punch, but alas. Them is set in the quite country side of France in which a couple are psychologically tortured by some nasty home invaders, somewhat in the vein of Funny Games. It’s very well made and scary AF.
Also one of the three French movies my chat room buddy recommended, Inside is one of those movies that’s incredibly well-made, brilliantly acted, visually terrifying, and I pretty much white-knuckled it the entire time, but it’s not a film I would be able to sit through twice. Inside is about a women who breaks into a pregnant widow’s house to try and steal her baby by any means necessary. For me personally, sitting through Inside was very difficult as someone who has been pregnant and actually had anxieties about being murdered for my fetus (I am sure all those true crime books about women who suffered similar fates while I was pregnant with my second didn’t help). This film is pretty violent and super gory. It also has a pretty good if not somewhat predictable twist.
Funny Games (1997)
I actually saw the 2007 remake with Naomi Watts before the original and though they are pretty similar, I prefer the original if for no other reason than I find the antagonist in the remake incredibly annoying, to the point where it angers me to see his face on screen. The plot is pretty basic; two menacing yet well-dressed dudes break into a family’s vacation house to toy with them and murder them just for shits and giggles. What makes this movie stand out for me is the ” movie rules” the villains break, like talking to the audience, that makes it feel campy and fun. Honestly, I feel like it’s the movie Eli Roth wanted to make when he filmed Knock Knock.
Silent House (2011)
Silent House is a remake of Uruguayan film, La Casa Muda, about a young women and her father who venture to their old vacation house to fix up, only to find a menacing someone waiting for them. This was filmed in real time, which I think really made an impact for me. It gets kind of confusing toward the end, but the twist ending explains everything. I really liked this movie, and I appreciate they didn’t make any comments on the antagonists mental health (which they easily could have done). This movie does delve into child sexual abuse so if that’s a trigger for you, proceed with caution.
You’re Next (2011)
This pretty much has everything you could want in a home invasion movie; humor, a strong, three dimensional female protagonist who remains human throughout the movie, awesome kills, a twist that I sure didn’t see coming, all presented in a well written, acted, directed, and shot package.
This movie doesn’t deviate too much from the standard strange invader hellbent on killing a “helpless” woman who lives alone in isolation. However, the protagonist is a deaf woman who fights back hard against a douchey looking white dude trying to kill her, and I appreciated that. I would have liked this movie even more if it had featured an actual deaf actress in the role of the deaf character.
This is not a comprehensive list by far, so feel free to drop some of your favs!