The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) Review – A Formulaic, Half-Baked Retread of the 2008 Original

The Strangers, which included the taut 2008 original and the better-than-expected but sadly underrated 2018 sequel, goes backwards by giving us a prequel trilogy. Renny Harlin has already filmed all three of them with the other two set for release in late 2024 and sometime next year. Such an ambitious move reminds me of Netflix releasing its Fear Street trilogy.

But after watching The Strangers: Chapter 1, this so-called first entry of the prequel trilogy feels more like a half-hearted retread of the original. The story — credited to Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland who wrote Due Date — treads familiar ground as the movie follows a young couple, Maya (Madelaine Petsch of TV’s Riverdale) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) on a road trip. They stop by a roadside diner in the small town of Venus, Oregon to grab some bites and the next thing they know, they have car trouble, forcing them to spend a night in a remote Airbnb home in the middle of nowhere.

What begins as a quiet night with Maya and Ryan enjoying each other’s company soon turns into a nightmare when a stranger obscured in the shadows knocks on the front door and asks, “Is Tamara here?

The first 30 minutes are spent trying to set a build-up from establishing the young couple to their subsequent stay at the Airbnb home. There are also a few teases from the masked strangers toying with them. The problem with The Strangers: Chapter 1 suffers from Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez’s mostly wooden acting performances. It doesn’t help either when their characters are written like generic horror-movie archetypes, making me barely care whether both or either of them would make it alive through the night.

Harlin may have been no stranger to directing horror, going way back to Prison and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master in the late ’80s, but his overall works have always been wildly inconsistent. Too bad The Strangers: Chapter 1 is one of them with his direction lacking the much-needed ominous dread, tension and even a sense of directorial flair that he could have at least emulated Bryan Bertino’s filmmaking style. The 2008 original, which earned its place as one of the best home invasion horrors ever made in the modern era, worked so well because of the stripped-to-its-essentials plot, the random act of violence and the creepy introduction of the three masked killers. Not to mention above-average performances from Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman playing a couple who already have a bad evening on their own and later, find themselves facing an unlikely night of terror out of nowhere.

Repeating the same thing except with a few tweaks, namely we have a happy couple instead basically dilutes everything. It’s all deja vu experience and regardless of this first entry being a prequel, remake or whatever they want it to be, if only Harlin can do us a favour by distinguishing his movie with some creativity. Sure, his movie does pick up the pace around the 40-minute mark when one of the masked killers hacked an axe through a door. It has its few worthwhile moments, notably during a stretch that takes place in the fog-shrouded forest.

And yet, as I watch the movie unfold throughout its clichéd-ridden 91-minute runtime, I don’t see the point of this movie being stretched to a trilogy. Not especially with the mostly uninspired direction, the awfully banal script and the casting of Petsch and Gutierrez, who are both disappointingly underwritten characters. I still hope the trilogy will improve with the next two movies and stick around for a mid-credits scene, teasing what to expect in the upcoming follow-up.