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The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) | Review

Well, well, well, look who decided to stun us with another round of horror clichés and dimwitted characters! Thanks, Lionsgate.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 kicks things off with an unidentified man doing his best impression of a scared rabbit, sprinting through the woods like his life depended on it. Which, to be fair, it probably did with those masked maniacs hot on his heels. At least the audience was spared the gory details of his inevitable demise. Can’t have too much horror in a horror movie, now can we?

During the opening credits of The Strangers: Chapter 1, they try to set the tone for some edge-of-your-seat terror by hitting us with a violent crime statistic that’ll make you wonder if you remembered to lock your doors before you headed out to the theater. 1.4 million violent crimes per year in America? Hey filmmakers, did you just dust off a VHS copy of The Strangers and copy that number down without a second thought? Violent crime rates across the nation have actually gone down since 2008, but never mind all that. Clearly, scaring audiences into a state of paranoia is far more important than making a genuinely scary movie. Keep clutching those pearls, folks! No doubt the filmmakers will trot out some flimsy excuse about how this is a “prequel” to justify this — “But it’s all just setup for the original The Strangers!” but unless the characters in that 2008 slasher have been officially retconned as a bunch of hipster weirdos who eschew modern technology for the ironic aesthetic of outdated gadgets and gizmos? The kids these days love that vintage fear, don’t they?

Anyway, our bright-eyed, citified, protagonists Maya (Madelaine Petsch, “Riverdale”) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez, “Teen Wolf”) thought they were in for a lovely anniversary getaway filled with romance and whimsy. But oh, how the cineverse loves to pull the rug out from under the blissfully naïve. After wandering off the beaten path into a place that makes a one-horse town look like the Kentucky Derby, the pair find themselves well and truly stranded after their car mysteriously breaks down. Cue the shady, vegetarian-hating locals offering to fix said car, ensuring our cannon fodder have no choice but to spend the night in a creepy cabin straight out of a Ted Kaczynski Airbnb listing.

From that point onward, it’s a cyclone of catastrophically poor choices that would leave even the most clueless slasher movie victims baffled. Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland, who are better known for writing TV comedies and cartoons, present a script that is practically a how-to guide on creating characters you can’t help but root against. On the bright side, the co-writers kept it streamlined and straightforward—no convoluted subplots here. We’re laser-focused on the inevitable victims. In a classic horror movie move, Ryan abandons Maya at the cabin to venture into town late at night, because what could possibly go wrong? The audience is left scratching their heads, pondering these motiveless, masked marauders. Man in the Mask, Dollface, and Pin-Up Girl have about as much personality here as the victims.

Director Renny Harlin, known for his work on A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, The Covenant, and Devil’s Pass, ventures into the horror genre once again with The Strangers: Chapter 1. While horror may not be his primary genre, his past works provide an interesting backdrop for this new endeavor. Harlin brings his journeyman’s knack to the party but little in the way of true horror and suspense. He does a decent job with good actors, scary locations, and a terrible script.

At the end of the day, The Strangers: Chapter 1 (of a trilogy!) is a slick, well-produced exercise in mediocrity. Sure, there is some brutal bloodletting, but that’s about the only bright spot in this rehashed horror fest. It’s not boring or horrible but just basically pointless. If you’re looking for a genuinely fun experience, you might want to skip this one and just watch the second Strangers movie instead (Prey at Night is still my favorite one in the franchise).

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