‘The Strangers: Chapter 1' Is Frighteningly Out of Touch

Directed by Renny Harlin

Starring Madelaine Petsch, Froy Gutierrez

Photo: John Armour

BY Josh KorngutPublished May 16, 2024


It's been a while since I've seen the cabin-in-the-woods subgenre presented without layers of meta self-reflection. That was until I experienced Renny Harlin's The Strangers: Chapter 1, the director's inexplicable reboot/remake/reimagining of the 2008 home-invasion horror classic.

Seeing this trope without pretense and a straightforward, no-nonsense attitude would have been a welcome change. However, the storytelling here falls flat from the first frame. The writing and direction are disinterested, clichéd and out of touch with its franchise roots, leaving horror enthusiasts disconnected from anything this movie has to say.

Like the 2008 blueprint by Bryan Bertino, The Strangers: Chapter 1 follows Ryan and Maya, an attractive young couple (Froy Gutierrez and Riverdale's Madelaine Petsch and two fish-out-of-water urbanites at a remote cabin rental. When the lovebirds find themselves isolated, they hear an aggressive knock at the front door by someone looking for "Tamara." Soon, Maya and Ryan find themselves besieged by three masked and armed assailants who hunt them down for seemingly no reason at all.

The greatest shame displayed in this offensively bad reboot is its complete lack of tension and scares. What makes the original film so daring and memorable is its horrifying, cat-and-mouse home-invasion terror. There's nothing scarier than having your personal space invaded; it's a real-life, realistic horror that can keep the bravest of us on edge when tip-toeing into the kitchen late at night for a popsicle.

Tonally, this entry is entirely out of touch with its original. I need clarification as to why the production would select a long-in-the-the-tooth director for a project that would've benefited from fresh blood. While Harlin has gifted horror fans classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and Deep Blue Sea, he's the last person I would've asked to reimagine a franchise like The Strangers.

The acting from lead cuties Froy Gutierrez and Madelaine Petsch is serviceable, which is a miracle considering these two carry most of the film on their backs. But the casting here is another poor choice from a team that desperately needs a sense of the source material's spirit. Making Maya and Ryan look like models immediately sets the tone of this film into the realm of CW horror. And while there is nothing wrong with CW horror, this is certainly not that.

Ultimately, The Strangers: Chapter 1 is a tragic step in an underdog horror franchise that once showed so much potential. From its classically terrifying first film to Johannes Roberts's underappreciated, neon-infused sequel, Renny Harlin's reimagining is dull, dumb and completely disconnected from what makes this series a good time. The scariest thing about The Strangers: Chapter 1 is that two more chapters are already in post-production.

(Cineplex Pictures)

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