The Strangers: Chapter 1

The Strangers: Chapter 1 Review

The Strangers: Chapter 1

Release date: May 17, 2024 (USA)
Director: Renny Harlin
Story by: Bryan Bertino
Distributed by: Lionsgate, Lionsgate Films
Budget: $8.5 million
Cinematography: José David Montero

Back in 2008, “The Strangers” seemed to be the least likely candidate for a series among all horror films. Nevertheless, it is precisely what is about to happen with “The Strangers Trilogy,” three movies directed by Renny Harlin that function as something of a remake and a prequel to the Bryan Bertino hit. In the original film, an average couple (Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) is terrorized in their remote vacation home by three masked strangers; it’s an effective piece of genre filmmaking as is its lesser-but-solid sequel “The Strangers: Prey at Night” partly because there’s never any explanation given for why they’re being targeted. When Tyler’s Kristen asks why she’s being attacked, Gemma Ward’s Dollface famously replies, “Because you were home.” What’s scarier than random violence? And who said we had to know everything about the Man in the Mask, Pin-Up Girl and Dollface?

I generally don’t believe in faulting a film (or trilogy) solely on concept. It could be that the other two chapters of this trilogy will not fill in too many blanks when they arrive next year. Maybe that won’t drain one of the things that made “The Strangers” work so well but I don’t know yet because “The Strangers: Chapter 1” largely remakes Bertino’s film until a post-credits tag scene hints at a potentially more ambitious second chapter. This one goes through all the motions of your average horror remake; often it feels like a faded copy of itself from just 10 years ago. Harlin injects it with some craftsman-like workmanship he could do this in his sleep; one wishes it didn’t make viewers drowsy too.

Maya (“Riverdale” star Madelaine Petsch) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) are traveling across country when they make a wrong turn and end up in the kind of small town that isn’t on most GPS systems. When they stop at a diner to get something to eat, they meet some of the locals, including a Sheriff played by genre legend Richard Brake, who has to play a bigger role in chapters 2 and 3 because this is essentially a cameo. More importantly though, the creepy mechanics who watch Maya and Ryan pull in clearly mess with their vehicle because it won’t start when they get back into it; told the part to fix it won’t be in until tomorrow, Maya and Ryan are pointed towards an AirBnB on the edge of town where cell service is bad and shadowy figures lurk in the woods. You can guess what happens next.

Not like many DTV horror sequels over the years, “The Strangers: Chapter 1” can be characterized by some kind of masterfulness brought in by Harlin. He likes to walk right up to the expected jump scare and then turn back, keeping viewers on their toes by not releasing the tension with a shout. It is actually effective during mid-section, when masked trio seems to almost supernaturally appear and disappear in background of frame just quickly enough that Maya doesn’t spot them; not up to par with other two films in this series but better than most home invasion junk out there. There’s a particularly effective shot with Maya at the piano, where Harlin and his team make great use of the mirror above it.

That said: we’ve seen it all before literally and there’s too little actual tension once Maya and Ryan realize they’re in serious trouble. The film falls apart when the hunt leaves the home and enters the poorly lit woods outside. The team here just doesn’t have the technical acumen to make these sequences work they’re much better in defined space of house than loose geography outside and it makes all of “The Strangers: Chapter 1” feel more like an obligation before they get to break mold in next two films, which were shot concurrently with this one.

It might feel more essential to 4.5-hour experience once we’re able to see Harlin’s new trilogy as a whole. For now though? Just feels overly familiar.

Watch The Strangers: Chapter 1 For Free On Gomovies.

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