The Strangers: Chapter 1 – movie review

Renny Harlin was one of the great action directors of the late 80s and early 90s, with films like Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight to his credit. But lately he seems reduced to directing second-rate formulaic action films like The Misfits and episodes of various TV series. And now he’s helming The Strangers: Chapter 1, a remake/reboot of the 2008 home invasion thriller The Strangers.

The original film starred Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a young couple whose stay in an idyllic holiday home is interrupted by three masked intruders. Written and directed by Bryan Bertino, that film was apparently inspired by the notorious Manson Family. Bertino is also responsible for writing and producing this film which is intended to launch a new horror film trilogy. In fact, chapters 2 and 3 have already been shot and are in post-production.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 stars Madelaine Petsch (from the TV series Riverdale) and Froy Guttieriez (the TV series Teen Wolf) as Maya and Ryan, a young couple on a road trip to celebrate their fifth anniversary. They pull off the main highway in search of food and drive into the small village of Venus, Oregon – population 400. But the strange looks they receive from the locals give off bad vibes. Despite the uncomfortable atmosphere in the diner, they finish their meals and head off; only to find their car won’t start.

A local mechanic offers to fix it, but says that he can’t get the replacement part for the motor until the next day. The couple are offered the chance to stay at a nearby cabin in the woods for the night. Anyone who has seen a horror movie in the last couple of decades will know that their stay will not be a safe one.

Before too long the tension begins to rise. Formulaic creaks and shadowy figures outside portend darker events on the horizon. Jose David Michael’s atmospheric and moody cinematography makes the surrounding forest seem menacing.

The two unknown leads do what they can with the trite material. But their characters remain bland, and it’s hard for audiences to empathise with them. As is par for the course with this type of film, they make bad and dumb decisions.

Harlin recaptures some of that unsettling vibe from the original with its disturbing theme. Its masked tormentors add a frisson of terror to the proceedings. The fact that their identities and motivations are never revealed further adds to the unsettling atmosphere. But ultimately we’ve seen this before, and the film reworks many of the tired tropes of this sub-genre. Harlin fails to bring anything new or fresh to the material.

Greg King

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