The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024, dir. Renny Harlin)

by | May 19, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 91 mins

UK Distributor: Lionsgate

UK Release Date: 17 May 2024

WHO’S IN THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1?

Madelaine Petsch, Froy Gutierrez, Rachel Shenton, Gabriel Basso, Ema Horvath, Ella Bruccoleri

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Renny Harlin (director), Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland (writers), Alastair Burlingham, Mark Canton, Charlie Dombek, Christopher Milburn, Gary Raskin and Courtney Solomon (producers), Justin Caine Burnett (composer), José David Montero (cinematographer), Michelle Harrison (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A couple (Petsch and Gurierrez) find themselves tormented by masked intruders…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1?

First impressions are vital, especially when it comes to film trilogies. Everything hinges on that first part being good enough to give audiences a reason to come back and see what happens next, whether it’s an engaging story or interesting characters or the expansive world in which they exist, or even all of the above.

The Strangers: Chapter 1, which kicks off a new trilogy of films in the eponymous horror franchise, has none of the above. It is an astonishingly generic home invasion thriller that rehashes the 2008 original almost beat-for-beat, but with very little of that film’s genuine suspense and dread, and certainly not much to entice audiences back for more.

The film opens with young couple Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) as they’re on the road toward Portland, Oregon for a job interview. They make a brief stop in a small, secluded town called Venus where every civilian gives them sinister stares and acts like they’re going to bash their heads open before the killers even show up, yet the couple (Maya in particular) is charmed by this quaint environment. When their car won’t start – because it would be a very short film if this couple just drove off straight after – they are forced to rent an Airbnb cabin nearby for the night, where in true Strangers fashion they are interrupted by a knock by someone asking for “Tamra”, and then later terrorised by that masked trio of sadistic psychopaths from the other films.

From the promotional material, you may be expecting The Strangers: Chapter 1 to be a prequel that shows how the creepy assailants became who we know them as in this series, but that’s not what this film is. Instead, Chapter 1 is a pseudo-remake of the original film that plays out almost exactly the same, in nearly the exact same fashion (save for one or two sequences that are done slightly out of order) and with certain lines of dialogue repeated or rephrased. The strangers themselves are no different to how they are in writer-director Bryan Bertino’s original film, or even in director Johannes Roberts’ sillier but still entertaining sequel The Strangers: Prey at Night, and they certainly aren’t explored in any depth that the trailers seem to suggest. They are what they’ve always been in these movies: just a bunch of dicks with nothing better to do than screw with somewhat undeserving people, but don’t be fooled for one second into thinking that this film is going to explore that motiveless mentality in any way shape or form.

To make matters worse, neither director Renny Harlin nor writers Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland are able to replicate any of the genuine terror or style of that original film. Gone is the sharp cinematography and editing prowess that once created a sinister atmosphere around its numerous creepy shots, with Harlin replacing them with a far less interesting set of filmmaking tools such as dim lighting, which given that most of the film takes place at night often makes it a bit harder to make out everything that’s going on. The filmmaker – who has certainly fallen far from his heyday of directing blockbusters like Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight and even notorious bomb Cutthroat Island – brings no discernible directorial vision to this film, and that in and of itself brings the film down much further than previous Strangers movies, which at the very least had some sort of stylistic merit to them.

Also absent are characters who the viewer can feel bad for as soon as they start getting harassed, because while actors Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez do fine with what they’re given, their main roles are almost painfully bland, to where you don’t particularly care either way if they make it out alive or not. Cohen and Freedland write these protagonists in ways where their more endearing moments come off as artificial or even obnoxious, because it’s two middle-aged guys writing for people who are a good few decades younger than them, and that is always going to give off major “how do you do, fellow kids?” vibes, even when the writing is much more on point. Furthermore, their script has these characters do a number of incredibly dunderheaded things that make it even easier for the villains to find and capture them, because once again it would make for a very uneventful film if people actually used their intellect whilst hiding from masked killers, but here the number of missteps they take do leave you very unsympathetic toward their overall wellbeing.

This really is just a redundant redo of the original, but without any of the things that made it memorable or terrifying, and the fact that this isn’t even the end is all the more defeating. It’s very possible that The Strangers: Chapter 2 and maybe even Chapter 3 might give this film a reason to exist in retrospect, but for now I just don’t see why they felt the need to waste an entire movie repeating practically everything that came before it. Even The Force Awakens did some things different to A New Hope, though in that movie’s case its follow-ups also went in their own direction (for better or worse), which again could well be the case for this particular trilogy as well.

However, going back to what I was saying about first impressions, this film gives no indication that what happens next will be worth it, so I doubt very much that people will be interested enough to come back for more, except out of pure obligation. I know I will, but begrudgingly so, based purely on this unentertaining dreck.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is a miserably redundant start to a new trilogy in the franchise that sees director Renny Harlin and writers Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland simply rehash the 2008 original with none of the style or suspense, with little else to entice audiences back for the remaining two chapters.

One out of five stars

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