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The Strangers Chapter 1 Review: New cast, recycled ideas

two masked figures walk creepily in front of a car in the night in THE STRANGERS - Chapter 1

Renny Harlin’s The Strangers: Chapter 1 is a frustrating remake that doesn’t hold a candle to the original film.

Director: Renny Harlin
Genre: Horror
Run Time: 91′
Global Release: May 17, 2024
Where to watch: in theaters

Bryan Bertino’s 2008 film The Strangers is genuinely one of the most unnerving home invasion horror flicks to date. Though it has a simple premise, what makes the feature so impactful is its ability to instill lingering dread upon the audience as they watch two characters in an unfamiliar setting stalked by masked strangers in the dead of night.

Ten years after its predecessor, a sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night, was released in 2018. Though it’s a rather mediocre follow-up and by no means my favorite of the franchise, I do give the film credit for having a sense of humor and producing a couple of notable kill sequences. 

It was then announced in 2022 that director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Deep Blue Sea) would be rebooting The Strangers Universe and releasing a modern-day trilogy. While this could have been an opportunity to bring fresh, haunting tales to the franchise, the first installment of the three-part story, The Strangers: Chapter 1, doesn’t give viewers much hope for the future. Instead, the latest entry is an uninspired, ineffective retelling of the original, with a narrative that strives to give us answers to questions we never asked for.

When traveling across the country for a job interview, Maya (Madelaine Petsch, of Riverdale) and her boyfriend Ryan (Froy Gutierrez, of Teen Wolf) find themselves stuck in the small town of Venus, Oregon, after their car breaks down. While waiting for their vehicle to be fixed, the couple spends the night at an isolated house in the wilderness. The evening takes a dark turn when the pair discovers they are being targeted by three creepy strangers whose identities are hidden behind masks.

Madelaine Petsch as “Maya” in THE STRANGERS - Chapter 1
Madelaine Petsch as “Maya” in THE STRANGERS – Chapter 1 , a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of John Armour for Lionsgate

Though The Strangers: Chapter 1 features an effective, haunting backdrop set deep in the woods, there is nothing else appealing about this contemporary remake. Much of what made the original terrifying was its use of slow-building tension, an eerie atmosphere, and the uncertainty of where the killers were located at any given time and what might happen next. However, none of that applies in the latest film, which rehashes the same narrative only in a new location and a modern-day setting. There’s no sense of fear or uncertainty, as, for the most part, we know exactly what’s going to happen.

Even when the feature temporarily strays from the original’s blueprint and attempts to introduce new scares, each scene is predictable and fails to deliver the intended suspense and thrills. The film’s climax is almost identical to the 2008 horror cult classic, yet somehow The Strangers: Chapter 1 thinks it will earn brownie points for changing the chilling line “because you were home” to “because you’re here,” as if interchanging a couple of words is some sort of groundbreaking achievement.

Another downfall is how unwise the protagonists, Maya and Ryan, are. After a strange encounter with a visitor, the pair still choose to leave the front door unlocked, and despite the unsettling event, Ryan makes the conscious decision to leave his girlfriend alone in the house and venture back to town. While these moments happen in the first film under somewhat different circumstances, their placement in The Strangers: Chapter 1 is much less forgiving. In the original, we are never introduced to any surrounding residents. However, the latest version of the film wishes to delve into the backstory of Venus’ townsfolk, who are shifty individuals with what appears to be a sinister agenda.

The local mechanics are blatantly the cause of the pair’s car breaking down, yet Maya and Ryan still agree to be driven to the town’s creepy, isolated rental home, even when the writing’s on the wall. Their dark destiny is glaring them in the face and is underlined in big, bold letters. The couple’s careless behavior makes them hard to root for, and the film is a lazy recreation of the original with a few minor changes. Simply put, this story feels unnecessary, and one can’t help but wonder what the other two feature films in this new but not-so-improved trilogy can offer. After all, ambiguity is what made the original story work so well in the first place.

Despite The Strangers: Chapter 1 having a brief 1-hour, 31-minute runtime, I found myself disinterested in the film after about 40 minutes. The narrative drags on as viewers watch Maya walk aimlessly around the rental home. It’s a poor attempt at building anticipation while delaying a predetermined outcome that’s inevitable. Petsch and Gutierrez’s performances are passable. However, when comparing the characters of Maya and Ryan to the rawness of Kristen and James delivered by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman in the first feature, the latter couple is vastly superior.

If you are unfamiliar with Bertino’s 2008 film The Strangers and are somewhat new to the horror genre, The Strangers: Chapter 1 might be a tolerable horror flick. However, if, like me, you’re a horror hound and a fan of the original, the first installment of Harlin’s modernized trilogy is a bland, boring blunder

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is out now globally in theaters.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 Trailer (Lionsgate)
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