‘The Strangers: Chapter 1’ Review: A Sleazy Nothingburger of a Slasher

Bad horror movies are a dime a dozen, with their formulaic narratives and low, often limiting, budgets. 2024 alone has seen the bizarre Night Swim, an interesting idea poorly executed in Imaginary, and, more recently, Tarot, a daft concept that was more banal than spooky. To give those pictures’ credit, though, at least they weren’t The Strangers: Chapter 1, a film whose fear and entertainment factors are so vacuous that staring at a blank wall for the same length of time would seem the better choice.

A Redundant Premise and a Lackluster Plot

The film is inspired by the 2008 cult hit The Strangers, a home invasion horror whose antagonists wore distinctive masks reminiscent of a scarecrow and angry Betty Boops. Chapter 1 sees this group terrorizing a young couple, Maya and Ryan (Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez respectively), who are taking a road trip to celebrate their anniversary. While passing through the shadiest village in Oregon, their car breaks down, and they stay the night at a nearby Airbnb. Their presence, for some reason, disgusts the locals but also makes them targets for the masked maniacs. The house is broken into, a bunch of violence occurs, and then the movie is over. The only mercy is the short 91-minute runtime.

As run-of-the-mill as the 2008 film was, it still boasted a chilling atmosphere via its impressive below-the-line craftsmanship. None of that suspense is present here. All we get are repetitive POV shots as the strangers spy on the couple from a distance, and an abundance of cheap jump scares that all fail due to how often the actors have to wait for the camera to get into the correct position. Tiresome pauses, elongated long shots, and over-the-top acting, which isn’t hammy enough to be fun, are hampered by lame lines of dialogue that border on comical. The Strangers: Chapter 1 is an apt title, as the filmmakers have evidently not read past that portion of the horror movie trope book.

Uninspired Characters and a Shallow Narrative

The Strangers: Chapter 1 serves as the start of a rebooted trilogy. This would be obvious without the subtitle, as vast chunks are missing from the narrative. Not revealing the strangers’ identities is perhaps fair enough, as an element of mystery is required to maintain audiences, but there are utterly no character arcs or strong themes to be found. Maya and Ryan are just a couple to be victimized, existing solely to serve the perverse gimmick of inflicting violence on innocents. They undergo no significant changes outside of trauma and have no idiosyncratic characteristics that haven’t been seen in dozens of other slashers.

This leaves Petsch and Gutierrez with nothing to work with, minus a few moments of sufficient chemistry. The antagonists are solely that – bad guys in masks who get a kick out of torment and blood. The villagers are bitter and creepy towards the young couple for no discernible reason, barring their non-local status. If this is meant to be a commentary on something, be it immigration, tourism, or otherwise, then it got lost to the cutting room floor. Some more identifiable villagers – a garage owner, two evangelical boys, and a girl looking for her friend – all get sizable screen time just to be dropped, making their inclusions feel pointless. It’s a film created entirely from horror movie cliches but without the appreciation or understanding of why these cliches are so commonplace.

Even the Violence is Underwhelming in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Even if one were to see The Strangers: Chapter 1 solely to scratch the sadistic itch of watching violence, they’re going to be disappointed. Aside from the cold opening and redundant scenes of faux suspense, complete with nursery rhymes and knocks at the door, it takes half an hour for these villains to make themselves known, let alone begin acting on their bloodlust. When they do start going after the couple, it’s surprisingly toothless, with the film often cutting away from any potential gore or obscuring it through muddy lighting. A character accidentally putting their hand through a loose nail is the goriest that this film gets. If you’re going to be sleazy, or indulge in depravity, at least commit to the bit.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 Doesn’t Work on Any Level

In attempting to set up a trilogy, the filmmakers have forgotten to make a complete film out of their first entry. The conflict takes too long to get going, while the characters are desolate slates. There isn’t even a resolution – the film just stops rather than ends. With such slapdash writing, it’s small wonder the craftsmanship followed suit. Some of the shots see the strangers standing near their intended victims, only for them to vanish with the movement of a head or the smashing of glass. It’s a classic shtick, but their sudden disappearances are so unbelievable that a form of sorcery is the only possible way to explain the authenticity of their antics. The Strangers: Chapter 1 simply doesn’t work. It doesn’t work as a prologue, as its own story, as a redundant horror, or even as a piece of voyeuristic savagery. Calling it rubbish is insulting to trash.

Allegedly, The Strangers: Chapter 2 is scheduled to hit cinemas later this year. It cannot possibly be as awful as this oneI may have to rethink my life choices if it is.

1 star

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is now in theaters.

Learn more about the film, including how to buy tickets, at the official website.

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