‘The Strangers: Chapter 1’ is a Bloody Good Slasher Film

I firmly believe that horror based on reality is always scarier than any supernatural horror film. Sure, don’t get me wrong, revengeful spirits and terrifying monsters make for some good thrills and chills, but at the end of the day, I can easily write them off as fiction. Instead, watching a movie with situations that could easily happen to you intensifies the fear, which is why slasher films always stand the test of time. I remember seeing the first The Strangers back in high school, becoming one of my favorite horror films because of how terrifying the premise was. So when a reboot was announced in the franchise, with three films coming out relatively close to one another, I was intrigued and ready for The Strangers: Chapter 1.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is part of a new standalone trilogy, all directed by Renny Harlin (The Covenant, Die Hard 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master) and written by Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland. The story is based on a concept by Bryan Bertino, the director of the original film and its sequel. Madelaine Petsch, known for her work on Riverdale, and Froy Gutierrez star as the couple who are in the wrong place at the wrong time, as three masked killers come knocking on their door. Does The Strangers: Chapter 1 live up to the excellence of the original, a film that has left a lasting impression on the horror genre, or does it fall flat on the scares? Continue on to find out! 

[There are spoilers from The Strangers: Chapter 1 are below!]

Danger comes on the road to Portland in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Life is looking up for Maya (Petsch) and her boyfriend Ryan (Gutierrez) as the couple celebrates their fifth anniversary. Together, they are road-tripping across America, headed to Portland, where Maya hopes to land her dream job, changing the trajectory of their future together. However, the need for food leads the couple to a small town just off the freeway, where their lives are changed forever, and not in a good way.

A broken-down car, which can’t be fixed until the next day at the earliest, means that Maya and Ryan are trapped in the town off the beaten path for the night. This inconvenience, and the unsettling behavior of the townspeople, irritates Ryan, who is desperate to escape. Maya, on the other hand, tries to brush it off as eccentric small-town life and decides that they’ll make the best of it. A cabin Air B&B in the woods might be exactly what they need. Nothing bad will happen and they’ll have a funny story to share with their friends one day. Right?

The Strangers- Chapter 1
Scarecrow (Matúš Lajčák) in The Strangers: Chapter 1. Image courtesy of Lionsgate.

At first, it seems like everything is going to be okay, however, a knock at the door of their cabin in the middle of the woods signals a change of fate. “Is Tamara home?” asks a girl shrouded in shadow, who keeps leaving with each denial and returning once again to ask. Over and over, the girl returns, sending shivers up my and the couple’s spine, as the evening goes from bad to worse. While Ryan rides back into town, Maya is left all by herself, which is when our three uninvited visitors truly come out to play.

It’s going to be a long night for our duo, as they fight for their lives against these agents of chaos. Tomorrow is no longer promised for our young heroes, not unless they create it, and that begins with escaping the murderers, or taking them down first.

Relentless murders push this Lionsgate film to a top-tier horror film

As I stated earlier, horror films that are based more on reality than the supernatural are scarier, and the killers from The Strangers franchise are some of the scariest around. Part of what makes them so terrifying is the use of masks, which completely hide their expressions from those they are killing and the audiences observing their actions. For Scarecrow (Matúš Lajčák), you can see his eyes, which are the only features you can see behind the burlap sack that uses, but for Dollface (Olivia Kreutzova) and Pin-Up Girl (Letizia Fabbri) all that is perceived is two black abysses.

The use of a mask, similar to that of Mike Myers in the Halloween franchise, removes all emotions from their actions. There’s no excitement, anger, or rage. All there is is the killer’s calculated and intense actions. They are the apex predators, who continuously outsmart Maya and Ryan, appearing one step ahead of them at all times. 

There are moments in The Strangers: Chapter 1 where they appear to move with supernatural swiftness or magically appear from one spot to the next. That could easily be chalked up to the killers knowing the grounds better than the protagonist and, therefore, navigating around the house and woods with more ease. Whatever it is, their ability to be everywhere and kill without any regard or hesitation elevates them to some of the best killers in any horror film to date, because it doesn’t take much to imagine this happening in real life.

It feels wrong to judge The Strangers: Chapter 1 so harshly

When The Strangers: Chapter 1 first came out, the response was less than stellar. It seemed that critics and fans alike didn’t have anything positive to say about it. At the time of writing this review, the Rotten Tomatoes scores for the film stand at 22 and 45 percent respectively, as of publishing time on this piece. And yet, the film has made back four times its budget, so where does the discrepancy with The Strangers: Chapter 1 stem from?

The Strangers-Maya and Ryan
Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) and Maya (Madelaine Petsch). The Strangers: Chapter 1 (Lionsgate).

Personally, I thought it was an excellent horror film, reminiscent of the original, but different enough to not feel it was treading the exact same waters. However, It seems that many are comparing the newest entry in the franchise to the original, which seems unfair for one glaringly simple reason; this is part one of a three-part story. We’ve only made it through one-third of the vision that the writers and directors have set out to tell, with the direction for Chapter 2 becoming quite clear in the closing moments of this first one.

I struggle to think that a story can be judged solely on the first section. Yeah, I know. I’ve DNF’d a book before in the first couple of chapters, but the amount of time I invest in a film compared to a novel is different in my case. The hour and a half I invested in watching The Strangers: Chapter 1 is a drop in the bucket, and it was also enjoyable to boot. The story is scary, making me jump multiple times, even if the writing could have been a bit tighter for some of the dialogue and elements.

I hope that the reception to Chapter 1 doesn’t influence audience goers from attending the next one, but instead, the stinger is enough to entice them to return to see what they are cooking up in the sequel. If The Marvels has taught us anything, is that sometimes the hate a film receives online is undeserved and the movie can be good just for being enjoyable.

Don’t sleep on this latest horror film

If you were a fan of the original The Strangers, or of horror films in general, then you should absolutely see The Strangers: Chapter 1 in theaters. The writers and director prove that Scarecrow, Dollface, and Pin-Up Girl are some of the most terrifying killers in the film industry, by saying so little but wreaking so much havoc. I personally cannot for the next installment of the franchise, because the promise of what’s to come is even more exciting than what the first chapter delivered.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is now playing in theaters.

Learn more about the film, including how to buy tickets, by visiting the official website for the title. 

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