'The Strangers: Chapter 1'.

'The Strangers: Chapter 1'. Photo Credit: John Armour.

Opening in theaters May 17 is ‘The Strangers: Chapter 1,’ directed by Renny Harlin and starring Madelaine Petsch, Froy Gutierrez, Ema Horvath, and Rachel Shenton.

Related Article: Renny Harlin Talks 'The Strangers: Chapter 1' and the Franchise's Future

Initial Thoughts

(L to R) Froy Gutierrez as “Ryan” and Madelaine Petsch as “Maya” in 'The Strangers' Trilogy, a Lionsgate release.

(L to R) Froy Gutierrez as “Ryan” and Madelaine Petsch as “Maya” in 'The Strangers' Trilogy, a Lionsgate release. Photo Credit: John Armour for Lionsgate.

Since ‘The Strangers’ came out in 2008, its reputation as a stone-cold horror classic has grown. And with good reason: the movie – about a troubled couple besieged in their home by three masked strangers for no discernible reason – is legitimately terrifying. Writer-director Bryan Bertino’s frightening little gem took viewers by surprise with the relentless and utterly unexplainable nature of the assault, while putting two characters who are already at odds when we meet them into a situation where they will either live or die in the last place they want to be at that moment.

A sequel, ‘The Strangers: Prey at Night,’ tried to capture that same feeling with mixed results. And now we have a prequel, ‘The Strangers: Chapter 1,’ that is essentially a step-by-step remake of the original, with some details changed and others missing, that fails on almost every level. There is no surprise, no underlying tension, not even much of a dynamic between our two leads, who are pretty, bland, and utterly uninteresting. By its second half, ‘The Strangers: Chapter 1’ just becomes an exercise in sadism because we already know how it ends.

Story and Direction

Froy Gutierrez, Madelaine Petsch and director Renny Carlin on the set of 'The Strangers: Chapter 1'.

(L to R) Froy Gutierrez, Madelaine Petsch and director Renny Carlin on the set of 'The Strangers: Chapter 1'. Photo Credit: John Armour.

Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) are driving through the Pacific Northwest to get to a job interview that Maya has with an architectural firm (a convenient plot point that seems only thrown in to advance another plot point later on). They’re young, cute, and perfectly happy. Well, almost: Maya has decided that she wants to get married after years of not being interested in formalizing the relationship. In a flip from the original – where Liv Tyler’s Kristen adamantly didn’t want to marry Scott Speedman’s James – Ryan is the one who’s hesitant. But not so much that it disrupts our perky pair’s idyllic trip – a source of tension that elevated ‘The Strangers.’

Of course, their car breaks down in a small Oregon town, where – in one of the hoariest cliches in the horror playbook – just about everyone either acts suspiciously or actively seems like they’re in cahoots with the family from ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.’ This is a development that basically goes nowhere, however, and seems merely set up to kill some time until the couple end up at an Airbnb nestled so deep in the forest that one might expect a few Ents to show up.

Madelaine Petsch as Maya in 'The Strangers: Chapter 1'.

Madelaine Petsch as Maya in 'The Strangers: Chapter 1'. Photo Credit: John Armour.

Sure enough, Maya and Ryan have barely settled into the decently-appointed cabin in the woods when they get a knock at the door and a shadowy female figure asks if Tamara is there – the cue that Maya and Ryan’s night is about to turn very bad. It’s a while before the three masked intruders finally launch their attack, but in the meantime they make noises around the house while Ryan goes out to find some vegan food and Madelaine takes a shower, giving director Renny Harlin a chance to wring what meager suspense he can out of the situation.

And that’s basically it: the rest of the movie follows the same path as the original ‘Strangers,’ even down to Ryan finding a gun and accidentally shooting an innocent person who shows up at the wrong time. He and Maya are especially useless at protecting or defending themselves, with Maya even locking herself in an upstairs closet at one point and just sitting there. There’s no suspense and no surprise because we’ve basically seen all this before, and the last act of the film becomes an exercise in tormenting two young people who are so depth-free that we don’t really care what happens to them.

Renny Harlin – a long way from the days of ‘Cliffhanger,’ ‘Die Hard 2,’ and even ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street IV’ – directs all this with a lack of energy or innovation that would condemn this movie directly to a VOD platform if Lionsgate Films wasn’t interested in ‘The Strangers: Chapter 1’ relaunching this semi-franchise. Speaking of which…

The ‘Strangers’ Trilogy

'The Strangers: Chapter 1'.

'The Strangers: Chapter 1'. Photo Credit: John Armour.

Harlin and Lionsgate have apparently shot not just ‘Chapter 1,’ but ‘Chapter 2’ and ‘Chapter 3’ as well. In fact, stick around and you’ll see a scene from the second (or even third?) movie during the credits. We won’t reveal much more than that, but it seems as if the ‘Strangers’ mythology will be expanded in one large, three-part story that will ultimately explain who the Strangers are, who “Tamara” is, and why the bloody trio go about their business.

That, of course, is the wrong way to proceed. We don’t want to pre-judge the films, but if the next two chapters eventually explain and strip away the mystery of the Strangers, that will likely wreck whatever fright factor the franchise can maintain. Horror is usually at its best when it’s left inexplicable, something the producers here should take to heart.

Final Thoughts

Froy Gutierrez as Ryan in 'The Strangers: Chapter 1.'

Froy Gutierrez as Ryan in 'The Strangers: Chapter 1.' Photo Credit: John Armour.

In the meantime, assuming the already-completed sequels are going to come out whether we like it or not, ‘The Strangers: Chapter 1’ doesn’t give us a lot of confidence about the series going forward. It rehashes the original film while losing all its existential dread, and deploys stock horror tropes in the latter’s place. It gives us no one to care about and nothing to latch onto, except the sinking feeling that we should have watched something else instead – like maybe the original film.

‘The Strangers: Chapter 1’ receives 3 out of 10 stars.

The Strangers: Chapter 1

"They don't need a reason."
R1 hr 31 minMay 17th, 2024
Showtimes & Tickets

What is the plot of ‘The Strangers: Chapter 1’?

While driving cross-country for a job interview, Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and her boyfriend Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) are stranded in a small Oregon town by car trouble. Finding shelter at a local Airbnb, the couple soon find themselves besieged by three masked, murderous strangers.

Who is in the cast of ‘The Strangers: Chapter 1’?

  • Madelaine Petsch as Maya
  • Froy Gutierrez as Ryan
  • Ema Horvath as Shelly
  • Rachel Shenton as Debbie
  • Richard Brake as Sheriff Rotter

'The Strangers: Chapter 1'.

'The Strangers: Chapter 1'. Photo Credit: John Armour.

Other Movies in 'The Strangers' Franchise:

Other Renny Harlin Movies:

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