It is not immediately obvious why The Strangers is rated R. The horror film, about a young couple (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) terrorized in their home by a group of sadistic masked assailants, is reasonably violent, but not very graphic: aside from a brief glimpse of a pretty nasty gunshot wound and some stabbings that are either obscured or off-screen, there's not much here that would ordinarily raise rating board eyebrows. (The elaboration states that The Strangers is rated R for language in addition to violence, but there are, at the most, one or two muttered F-bombs.) In terms of content, PG-13 films have gotten away with worse. Hell, the PG-rated Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian featured a decapitation, which is more than we see here. What, then, explains the MPAA's harsh (and no doubt economically damaging) treatment of The Strangers?

I am convinced that the film broke the R threshold in the eyes of the MPAA for one reason: it's pretty good. Tight, intense, often legitimately frightening, and committed to its suburban-nightmare premise, The Strangers may not be gory, but I wouldn't wish it on too many kids under fifteen. It's a classical, no-frills, 85-minute blast of cold air, a refreshing bit of professionalism in a genre whose mainstream, at least, has been plagued of late by lazy pandering and general shoddiness.