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‘The Strangers’: Unintentionally funny games

Home-intruder horror show relies upon victims Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman behaving like absolute idiots

If you’ve ever lain awake wondering what Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” would be like if it were remade as a dopey American slasher flick, your prayers have been answered. “The Strangers” is one of those inane fright fests that relies upon the victimizers being omniscient and omnipresent while the victims are complete morons.

Our morons are James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler), who have driven to James’ parents’ isolated country house after attending a friend’s wedding. The evening was supposed to be a romantic one — James had strewn rose petals and champagne on ice around the house — but Kristen’s refusal of his proposal has cast something of a pall on the proceedings.

So the mood is already glum when the titular weirdos show up. It starts with an odd girl knocking at the door and asking for someone. Then people in masks start turning up in the driveway, on the lawn … and in the living room. First-time writer-director Bryan Bertino has one ace to play — masked person surprisingly appears in the frame — and he plays it effectively. The first five or six times, that is. After that, the “boo!” appearance gets colossally repetitive.

The fact that the masked killers aren’t given any kind of motivation or identity adds to the air of creepiness, but Bertino has them lurking around every corner and popping up behind every door, which moves them from terrorizers to boogeymen, thus eventually making them less convincing as villains. Of course, their goal of wigging out the young lovers is made all the easier by the fact that James and Kristen do every wrong thing possible.

If there’s a stranger in your house, and your boyfriend arrived from getting you cigarettes, wouldn’t you insist that the two of you get in the car and drive away immediately? For that matter, if you knew that there were scary masked people around the house, and that you would probably have to make a run for it at any moment, wouldn’t you at least put on some shoes? If you answered “no” to either of these questions, you are stupid enough to be the character that Liv Tyler has the misfortune of playing here.

Tyler and Speedman are attractive and capable performers, but “The Strangers” has them playing, essentially, meat puppets. Starring in this movie isn’t doing them any favors, and buying a ticket for it won’t do you much good, either. Unless you think current cinema’s spate of quietquietquietquietquietBANG scares is the epitome of good horror.