‘The Strangers: Chapter 1’ Review: Feels like People We’ve Met Before

Kevin Taft reviews The Strangers: Chapter 1, a horror reboot that has decided to hue too closely to what made the original film special.
User Rating: 6.5

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is the latest entry in the ongoing list of unnecessary reboots.

Supposedly telling us “How the Strangers became the Strangers,” this apparent prequel (via the tagline’s claim) isn’t really a prequel, nor is it a sequel; it’s just Lionsgate remaking a movie that was highly successful in the first place.

“The Strangers: Prey at Night” was a sequel to the Scott Speedman/Liv Tyler original. It was incredibly effective at suspense, scares, and clever use of ‘80s pop songs to underscore the killings. However, it didn’t make a killing at the box office.

So six years later, the studio decided to start over, thinking they could breathe life into the franchise.

This time, action director Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight) takes over from Bryan Bertino (the excellent The Dark and the Wicked), utilizing an exact plot from the original film while adding some other unnecessary curiosities and an ending that promises that the story will “be continued.”

This time, we focus on Maya (Madelaine Petsch of Riverdale fame) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez), a young couple heading to Seattle for a job interview that Maya hopes to get. Being hungry, the two get off an exit and head toward a diner that appears on Google Maps.

Of course, the diner is in an isolated small town in the woods, and the residents don’t seem all that excited about their arrival. When their car doesn’t start after they eat, they find themselves having to wait overnight for a car part and in the only Airbnb available—a remote cabin owned by a man who is off on a hunting trip.

Without a car, the two settle in for the night and enjoy the peace when they suddenly hear a loud knock on the door. When they answer, they see the figure of a girl in shadow who asks, “Is Tamara home?” They let her know she has the wrong house, but, of course,  the girl stands there for a bit and then leaves. But that won’t be the last time they see the young girl.

Later, when Ryan takes the motorcycle left by the owner into town to get food and his inhaler, Maya encounters two more mysterious masked figures. These are the Strangers – in the same masks as the Strangers in the original film and its follow-up. So… are they the same Strangers? Is this a continuation of that story? Or will the filmmakers actually have something far more sinister up their sleeves?

Who knows, because Chapter 1 of this new trilogy adds nothing to the mythology and seems pointless. In the original, the whole mystery was why these three masked killers were tormenting a young couple. In the movie’s final moments, they say, “Because you were home.” In this reboot, that line (altered to “because you were here”) was shown in the trailer, so it comes as no surprise even though it’s presented as a shocking moment.

At no time do we find out what made the Strangers the Strangers, as the tagline suggests (unless it will take us three movies to find that out). Otherwise, this is another routine ‘Strangers’ movie, ala Friday the 13, where after the first film, the sequels all followed a similar premise, and the point of seeing the movie is simply to get scared.

To its credit, the movie has several suspenseful scenes. Renny Harlin does a good job of setting up shots that usually lead to a shocking reveal, only to have him subvert our expectations. However, don’t get me started on the infamous “inhaler” plot point that has been done to death at this point in film history.

See Also: ‘Abigail’ Review: A Bloody Good Time

Petsch is quite good here. She leans into the terror but also proves that she’s not just a woman in peril. On the other hand, Gutierrez often just has a blank look on his face, even when confronted with horrific situations. I often thought maybe he was secretly one of the Strangers (that would have been more interesting), but alas, this entry isn’t going to be that clever.

This is not to say that I wasn’t entertained because I was. I enjoyed the cat-and-mouse aspect of it all, and it’s competently made. I just wish it actually did something different with the premise rather than just repeating the same thing Bertino did sixteen years ago. The only thing that was really added was the weird, creepy townspeople who end up being weird and creepy for no reason. But maybe the next chapters will prove me wrong. Until then, these Strangers are all too familiar.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 opens in theaters on May 17, 2024.

 

6.5
Fair
Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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