The Strangers: Chapter One (2024) Review

The Strangers: Chapter One (2024)
Director: Renny Harlin
Screenwriters: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland
Starring: Madelaine Petsch, Froy Gutierrez, Gabriel Basso, Ema Horvath

Somewhere, a few years ago, after the second Strangers film Prey At Night had been safely consigned to the ‘I don’t recall it being awful’ memory banks, someone in the production company boardroom meetings must have said, ‘You know what? The Strangers was great. People loved it. Let’s do another sequel.’ To which the response was, ‘We could, but we should add bits in that we’d need to have set up in the first film, otherwise the fans will have a go at us for not doing it properly. You know what they’re like; everything has to do with pointing out Easter Eggs on YouTube videos titled ‘25 Things You Missed In The First Film.’’ With their wise wisdom and five mortgages, they went home and struck upon a genius idea: ‘Why don’t we just remake the first film, almost point for point, but add one or two tiny extra bits which allow us to make a sequel later on? And we’ll hide it all by calling this remake The Strangers: Chapter One. Then we can do a sequel with everything set up, whilst making money from that original remake!’ And then the producers in the boardroom went and got drunk in a swimming pool in their third home whilst they gave themselves bonuses, refused to pay their writers, and plugged the performances of their actors into the Artificial Intelligence machine.

If that little scenario isn’t how this first film of an upcoming trilogy (the second and third films coming out later in 2024 and 2025) was made, then they’ve done a great job of fooling everyone in the world that it was. Aside from cosmetic changes (switching the main couple for a new couple and putting them in an AirBnB after their car breaks down), the film is almost a carbon copy of the movie from 2008. A man and a woman, in an isolated location, have someone knock on the door asking if Tamara is home. Of course Tamara isn’t home, but that’s not the point; a man with a bag for a mask has snuck in the back, and eventually his two female masked assistants are stalking and trapping and playing with the couple. We have our traditional home-invasion movie.

Whereas the original film worked because of its startling simplicity, being so simple that it was just the raw skeleton of an idea that was incredibly done, this film pads it back out again to show exactly what happens when someone misunderstands an original idea. The Strangers was a blank slate, its titular characters so strange because they stood for almost anything you wanted them to. Relationship issues, the fear of the spurned lover, the unknown of both lives together and alone – whatever you wanted to add to them, you could. They were even more blank than Michael Myers from Halloween. With this sequel/remake/reinterpretation, by situating the drama just outside of a tiny village (several characters of which we are introduced to), we’re given the age-old urban/rural divide of Carol Clover’s “Men, Women, and Chainsaws”, released decades ago, with nothing new. We might never get to see who is under the mask, but that’s beside the point, because by adding this element, we’re immediately going to point fingers because they’ve given us somewhere to point.

Our resulting attempts to play Agatha Christie take away from our central couple, who for the most part aren’t awful. They have fun, seem to genuinely care for each other, and have as decent a descent into the nightmarish scenario they get thrust into as can be expected. Our attempts at being Sherlock Holmes take away any possibility of scares, of which there are few, and the ones that are attempted are mishandled reappropriations of the original film. Even worse, with the death of the original Strangers in Prey At Night, they’ve had to get a new shape behind the masks, and by making Dollface’s hair dark, just like Pin-Up Girl, it borders on impossible to tell the difference between the two, especially in night-time sequences shot outdoors in the woods in thick fog.

Not that this is much of an issue, because the film’s tempo is so off that nothing seems to build up any kind of rhythm for you to feel worried for our characters in these terrifying moments, anyway. The film clunks along the way it has been told to, never given a chance to get into any kind of flow to immerse and embrace a viewer in suspense. There’s no feeling of a proper build to a final climax. It’s just another thing that happens. Thankfully, the film is only 90 minutes long, because any more than that might drive the average cinemagoer to commit a violent crime.

This first film’s events are all to service the next films, which will need to do something monumental to rectify the situation the first one has placed them in. A premise such as The Strangers worked because it was so minimal, and it bordered on impossible to do another film correctly for the simple fact that it demanded expansion on that which didn’t need expanding on. If there’s a magic formula out there for bringing the franchise to sparkling new horror heights, The Strangers: Chapter One hasn’t found it, and it doesn’t bode well for the upcoming parts, either.

Score: 7/24

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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