The Strangers: Chapter 1 Movie Review: Familiar yet fiendishly frightening horror fare

The Strangers: Chapter 1 Movie Review: Familiar yet fiendishly frightening horror fare

The Strangers is not groundbreaking horror cinema, but it delivers a satisfyingly suspenseful experience for fans of the genre, leaving the door open for future chapters
The Strangers: Chapter 1(3.5 / 5)

The Strangers: Chapter 1 wears its familiarity on its sleeve. While the slasher genre inherently limits originality, this film embraces classic tropes with surprising effectiveness. Renny Harlin’s The Strangers is a remake of the 2008 film of the same name. It opens with a disclaimer that gives away the plot. Then, we hear a 911 distress call where a muffled female voice says, “They are attacking us.” Few slasher films open in such a straightforward manner that it makes you wonder whether the makers are laying out all their cards on the table a little too early. But even your predictions for the rest of the film cannot trump the reality of what unfolds on the screen. It is gentle and fiendishly frightening whenever it wants to be.

Director: Renny Harlin

Cast: Madelaine Petsch, Froy Gutierrez, Gabriel Basso, Ema Horvath, Richard Brake, Rachel Shenton

The film follows familiar tropes and the storytelling tools are as old as John Carpenter’s Halloween. A young couple's idyllic getaway takes a horrifying turn when strangers in masks terrorise them in a remote cabin. The man smells foul play the moment they enter a place called Venus in Oregon, but the unsuspecting woman signs up for a cabin in the woods for the night. Bummer! The rest of the story sort of writes itself, but it is a film that relies a lot on making and acting to work, and boy do both departments deliver!

The best part of The Strangers: Chapter 1 is how much it makes us care for the central characters, Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) and Maya (Madelaine Petsch). They are just your regular adults with moderate ambitions about living a happy life together. The fact that the cast members are lesser known only makes them relatable, and their earnest performances make their tension quite palpable. Hearteningly, they make sensible choices that are unlike what teenagers do in many slasher films, such as hiding behind thin curtains and flimsy doors or otherwise rendering themselves easy targets and leading themselves straight to the killers’ paths. Of course, expectantly, the makers heighten the level of tension by often leaving the victims in plain sight, thus creating opportunities for the perpetrators to strike. But the suspense is still well-earned, and the film has such good craftsmanship that it makes it easy to overlook its minor quibbles.

The Strangers does not pummel your senses with excessive background music, either. It makes effective use of genre tropes and serves as a good example of the true value of silence in a horror film. Often, a sudden ‘boo’ from the dark is scarier than any object that comes flying onto the screen. There is a good mix of both jump scares and slow-burn terror in the film. The makers present the portions in the cabin and the surrounding woods in a way that lends a sense of urgency to the proceedings while inducing a feeling of claustrophobia.


However, the film's violence might be off-putting for some, with a few moments bordering on gratuitous brutality. Moreover, the killers do not have a great deal of personality, although there are some scenes where you get a sense of their psyche, like a sequence where one of them plays the piano in the same fashion as the female victim. The Strangers is not groundbreaking horror fare, but it delivers a satisfyingly suspenseful experience for fans of the genre, leaving the door open for future chapters.

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