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'The Strangers: Chapter 1' review: Let’s close the book on this franchise

Courtesy of Lionsgate


An attempt to begin a sprawling three part saga with a franchise that should’ve stayed in 2008, Renny Harlin’s lackluster, uneven, and woefully boring “The Strangers: Chapter 1” is a lame rehash with no sense of purpose, suspense, or identity. Is it a prequel? Remake? Such trivial questions don’t necessarily matter when “Chapter 1” disregards the hallmarks of what made 2008’s sensational cat-and-mouse slasher thrive. It didn’t need to continue, but horror flicks are built for sequels and I didn’t loathe 2018’s underrated “The Strangers: Prey at Night” because at least it tried retooling the formula and injected the proceedings with a retro soundtrack. Plus there was nothing scarier than a trio of knife wielding maniacs who’s only motive was “because you were home.”

Alas, we arrive at 2024’s “Chapter 1” which doesn’t breed innovation, but pointless meandering. Nobody will fault Harlin for trying to exploit the IP in his ambitious three movie plan, all three films were shot back-to-back with two sequels set to be released later this year. In an era where building or sustaining series is the new money making standard, it’s not shocking we’ve arrived here. Even though I’m sure the original filmmakers never imagined their tense 85-minute shocker would yield a sprawling multi-film arch. 

Being “Chapter 1” means you’re not going to get any resolutions or justification for existence. It’s all set-up and even hilariously ends with a “to be continued.” It was also filmed in Slovakia, which is standing in for Oregon and it looks like it was shot by a thesis student on the world’s cheapest soundstage. Don’t even get me started about the choppy editing or the performances. 

The plot, of course, is pretty much the same as you remember it. A younger couple (Madelaine Petsch and Ryan Bowen) are heading on a road trip to Portland and, when their car inevitably breaks down, are forced to shack up for a night at an AirBnB in the woods where they find themselves caught in the crosshairs of some familiar killers asking if “Tamara is home.” 

Harlin, best known for sturdy action vehicles of the nineties ala “Die Hard 2” and “Cliffhanger,” is not great at sustaining the momentum of the story or really having the patience to allow the suspense to build in an organic fashion. The quick jump edits give no sense of pace or rhythm, and the screenplay penned by Bryan Bertino, Alan R. Cohen, and Alan Freedland, embeds the film with cheesy dialogue and subplots (like Petsch’s character being a vegetarian or Bowen being asthmatic). 

It all builds towards a beat-for-beat rehash of what 2008’s “The Strangers” did so remarkably. But instead of doing the most with so little (like that film did on a micro budget), “Chapter 1” is so painfully miniscule and uninviting, it’s hard to imagine anyone who got suckered into buying a $15 ticket would even consider coming back for rounds 2 and 3. I guess stranger things have happened. 

Grade: D- 

THE STRANGERS: CHAPTER 1 is now playing in theaters. 

1 comment

1 Comment

Steele Nickle
Steele Nickle
May 21

Don’t even get me started about the choppy editing or the performances. 

Backrooms Game


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