I was really excited when I first saw the trailer for the film the strangers. Sitting in a cool theatre on a Saturday morning watching previews, the woman in front of me whispered “holy shit that looks scary” to the man next to her. I agreed. The trailer, unfortunately, is probably the most haunting part of the film.
I think many things went wrong with this film, among them the absolutely absurd gender relations that made the characters unreal to me. But the thing that bothered me the most was the use of the masks, which initially was incredibly effective, but then somehow as the movie went on became increasingly less effective. Do we need to know what lies behind the mask for the mask to be scary? By the end I was so disconnected from the killers that they didn’t scare me at all, they were like the wind or the moon. They became devoid of intent, inanimate.
Now I know what you’re saying. What about characters like Michael Myers. Well we don’t see their faces right? But we do see behind the mask in the sense of the back stories of abuse, etc. The use of masks in horror is a generally frustrating issue for me in the last couple of years. Think about hostel, the image of the pig-man mask. When I first saw this image, I was stunned. This was an iconic mask. This was a symbol of brutality and …. during it’s 10 seconds of screen time it essentially served the same function as a pair of plastic glasses and beard disguise. Pointless.
For me the most effective use of a mask in recent years, has to be Rob Zombie’s recreation of Halloween. The handmade paper masks on the walls in Michael’s cell scream out as though they embody the demons inside his head. And of course there is the way the young Michael uses the mask as transformation. Is he the mask? Or is the mask the evil he allows to take his body? Maybe that’s why that mask has become so iconic.
One of the things that I always liked about the original Halloween was how the audience was cast into the POV of the killer, of Michael. If masks exist to take on new identities to escape the confines of what makes us, us… then perhaps film itself is becoming our greatest mask.