Review – The Strangers: Chapter 1

When Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers hit theatres in the spring of 2008, not many could guess that this fairly low-budget feature debut would become the iconic home invasion thriller that it is. Years later, the chilling hit was met with another sleeper success with The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018); now, 16 years later, horror fans have been met with the third and latest entry – The Strangers: Chapter 1. However, does this new housebreaking horror have what it takes to stand alongside Bertino’s brilliant original? 

Chapter 1 follows Maya (Madelaine Petsch), partner to Ryan (Froy Gutierrez), who together decide to up and move to the Pacific Northwest for a fresh start. Stranded after their car breaks down in the insular town of Venice, Oregon, they settle in for a night at a remote Airbnb. However, it is not long before the lodge is descended upon by a trio of formidable, masked intruders. 

The story itself is not necessarily groundbreakingly original, but there is a reason why the saying “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” exists; it is precisely this reason why Chapter 1 is granted some initial praise. Home invasion horror exudes an air of terror. The fear of safe spaces eroding and the threat of ruin where vulnerability thrives is what makes the subgenre so effective. Even in its most stripped-back form, the invasion trope is terrifying. Chapter 1’s take on this well-oiled subject is almost applaudable. Essentially, it ticks all of the boxes: rural location where no one can hear you scream, plenty of windows where the seeker has the advantage, and the most crucial point; the film showcases a long-running, frenzied cat and mouse chase. 

Sustaining the momentum is the film’s overall composition. The appearance itself, from the lighting to the set design, is measurably effective, with the cabin aesthetic creating some interesting crevices for the killers to hide, as well as honing in on that quintessential atmospheric quietness that projects from remote chalets. Still, the merits soon halt as the rest of the film suffers at the hands of its own unclear direction. Chapter 1 was largely marketed as a prequel, with even the trailer blasting the promise that the film would provide the chance to “witness how the Strangers became the Strangers”. Yet, any watcher of Chapter 1 will retrospectively state that the film is actually a relaunch of the original movie. 

Lionsgate has revealed that Chapter 1 is the first in a new ‘Strangers’ trilogy, with the other two films being shot concurrently with the first entry. The strategy behind the upcoming series is to launch the lore of The Strangers to new audiences. Whilst a level of excitement is owed at the thought of a new franchise development, it might’ve been worth creating a new, original string of home invasion horrors rather than rebooting a film which was made less than twenty years ago. Nevertheless, Hollywood prevails…

It is at this point where Chapter 1 shrivels. Indeed, the aesthetic and thematics of its subgenre stand tall and pack an effective surge of thrills, but other than the sequestered semantics, Chapter 1 does not offer anything necessarily innovative or worthy of imminent discussion. Instead, it is best to take the film for what it is: a fun, jumpy popcorn movie that bears nostalgia to the amusement of 2000s horror, but not enough to owe significant enthusiasm towards. 

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