The Strangers: Chapter 1 Review | Bored to Death

by Andrew Parker

The only thing chilling about The Strangers: Chapter 1 is the all too real promise that there are two more of these things lurking around the corner. As dull and idiotic as horror cinema tends to get, this reworking of a 2008 film (and its lesser sequel from a full decade later) is unconscionably lazy in its attempts to frighten. It’s a cynically made piece of outright garbage that would only appeal to people who desperately want to jump out of their seats at the sound of loud noises, but for the price of one ticket to The Strangers: Chapter 1, they could just as easily buy a friend a pizza and have them hide out in their house, throwing random shit at the walls all hours of the night. That would undoubtedly have more potential for scares and enjoyment than whatever the hell this claims to be. In fact, the only way to properly watch this in a cinema is to catch it with a crowd of people willing to shout back at the screen saying how stupid it is, but even then, those people might fall asleep well before they get a chance to make a joke.

For those unfamiliar with the original film (which is also much, much, much better than this), The Strangers revolves around the concept unsuspecting people being terrorized by mask wearing home invaders who are seemingly working without any motivation whatsoever. This time out, those unsuspecting every-people are Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and Greg (Gabriel Basso), a young couple who take a wrong turn en route to her job interview and end up in the small, secluded town of Venus, Oregon, population 468, a community of oddballs whose stares range from coldly blank to outwardly menacing. Their car mysteriously breaks down, and they’re forced to spend the night at apparently the only AirBnB in town, a cabin in the woods.

You pretty much know the rest, and if you don’t, you’re asking too many questions and aren’t the target demo for The Strangers: Chapter 1. A movie like this should be a chip shot, provided that there’s a shred of style or ingenuity to be found to offset the threadbare concept. Good scares or clever twists can elevate even the most mediocre of genre fare to a more respectable level, but director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cutthroat Island, Deep Blue Sea) can’t be bothered to do anything remotely new. Considering that Harlin once cut his teeth on horror movies, it’s flat out astounding to see that he has seemingly forgotten how to build suspense or even make anything amusing.

There isn’t a single genuine scare to be found in The Strangers: Chapter 1. Every insipid, plodding, rote moment is heavily telegraphed, and none of the reveals along the way would trick a toddler. You can put even odds on every item that Harlin dwells upon coming back to provide a plot point down the road, but instead of seeming like clever nods to attentive viewers, the film sleepwalks through everything like it’s a foregone conclusion. The only style to be found here is in Harlin’s relentless foreshadowing, which kills any scary vibes the material could offer up. Sure, there are chase scenes and grievous bodily harm to be inflicted, but to what end and why does it land like nothing is happening at all? No one in The Strangers: Chapter 1 is treating this concept like it’s anything special, and from start to finish there isn’t a shred of ghoulish fun to be found.

It’s one of those movies where there are holes in logic big enough to drive a convoy through and people make stupid decisions because there wouldn’t be much of a movie if they were smart, but The Strangers: Chapter 1 makes the grave mistake of trying to match the serious and threatening tone of the original films. Those films had a malevolent sharpness to them that kept things interesting, and the people in peril were basic, but still interesting. Here, no one is interesting – hunters or the hunted – and the abject, misplaced seriousness Harlin brings to a script this idiotic isn’t just misguided. It’s flat out annoying. Just when one thinks Harlin’s one promising career couldn’t stoop lower, along comes The Strangers: Chapter 1, a film one step above watching a glitchy file projected on screen that can’t sustain an image for more than a few seconds at a time.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is one of the closest times I have ever come to giving a perfect zero rating, something that I can’t do, but in my heart of hearts I really want to. I think I can rationalize giving it a one and not advocating for change in the ratings’ system over here because technically none of this is the fault of Petsch or Basso, who are doing exactly what’s demanded of them here, so at least there’s one aspect I can’t say is a failure. The Strangers: Chapter 1isn’t a film that I found somehow offensive or was incompetently made, but rather something so boring and mediocre that it transcends time and space to become flat out infuriating to sit through.

I like to believe that most movies are made with decent enough intentions to entertain and engage, or that at least one person working on even the worst of projects was giving their all to the cause. But the sheer hubris to put something like The Strangers: Chapter 1 out into the world and then promise that there are two more of these things (both currently in post-production) on the way is the only darkly amusing thing to be found here. The ending is the worst in horror history next to The Devil Inside, and also the most cynical since then. At this point, even if the next two instalments (both from Harlin) are masterpieces of horror cinema, there’s no way to ever redeem what has happened here or how this series has been set up thus far. The Strangers: Chapter 1 really makes me question my belief in the power of cinema. You truly can’t do much worse than this.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, May 17, 2024.

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