Imperfect ‘Strangers'

Things I hate about bad horror movies:

Characters who know they're being stalked, grab a knife, then set it down and walk around defenseless.

Unmotivated psychos who have no back story – in fact, who don't even have names.

People who don't call 911 when psychos start banging on doors and trying to get in.

Idiots who pull into a driveway, get the rear window of their car blown out by a rifle, and don't drive off OR call 911.

Proselytizing Mormons of middle-school age.

OK, that last one's pretty rare. But “The Strangers” is a horror movie whose rare badness contains all those inanities and many more.

Writer-director Bryan Bertino makes his debut with the film, which drags itself forward like a gut-shot deer. He gives the main characters, James Hoyt and Kristen McCay (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler), no depth at all: They're generic lovers who go to his boyhood home after a friend's wedding and get terrorized by masked sickos.

When we're finally set for a revelation – this is a spoiler alert, I guess, though there's really nothing to spoil – they find out why this happened to them: “You were home.” The line so casually placed in the eerie trailer turns out to be the sole point of the film.

Maybe Bertino thinks he's making a comment about the randomness of violence in society. But in this context, when he purports to explain events surrounding a tragedy “based on real life,” his refusal to provide further explanation looks like sheer laziness. (It turns out there never were such people, anyhow.)

Bertino directs at a funereal pace. Speedman remains comatose, though Tyler flickers fitfully to life. The mournful look on her face suggests she's remembering the days when she was given more psychologically complex scripts, such as “Armageddon.”