regular 'strangers' dollface and scarecrow in front of an old ford pick up truck

Run Away from ‘Strangers’

Reviewed by Chris Corey
May 19, 2024

The Strangers: Chapter 1

★ ½

This is a film that is executed so poorly, the only way to really enjoy it is at a watch party with friends where you take turns mocking the characters, bad direction and painstakingly predictable storyline.

Yes, it really is that terrible.

Prior to the opening credits, we’re fed a couple on-screen statistics that I won’t repeat here because, given the inept filmmaking, I’m not confident they’re true. In short, they tell us how many violent crimes are committed over a certain period of time and equates them to how many have happened during the time we’ve been watching the film.

We are then told that the story that is about to unfold is one of the most brutal. I imagine that The Strangers: Chapter 1 is based on the same story as the 2008 original, titled The Strangers, as this is basically a retread of the events that unfold there.

After our lesson in crime stats, we meet Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) and Maya (Madelaine Petch), a couple taking a trip somewhere in Oregon, as stated by a title card, to celebrate their 5-year anniversary. We meet them in their car on their journey. The goal of this scene is to get us to like them, which we’ll need to do to fear for their lives as they become the subject of the film’s torture.

The lack of chemistry between the actors is painfully combined with run-of-the-mill dialogue that does little to create any compassion or concern for them. Instead, this makes the audience the subject of the film’s torture.

characters ryan and maya on the porch of the cabin drinking beers

Ryan and Maya on the porch of an Airbnb. © 2024 Lionsgate

They quickly arrive in Venus, Oregon. I assume this is a fictional town since Google wasn’t able to find it. If Venus were a real town, the film would owe its populus a profound apology as every person Ryan and Maya meet is creepy, grumpy, unfriendly. The locals give each other so many sideways glances, you’d think it to be the official town greeting.

Before checking into their Airbnb, Ryan and Maya stop at a diner for a bite to eat. There is one friendly person in this town – a waitress named Shelly, played by Ema Horvath. When Ryan and Maya discover their car won’t start, the local mechanic tells them he has to order a part from the dealer and he’ll need the car overnight.

Shelly offers to drive them to their Airbnb, which of course, is a cabin in the woods. Shelly is the most interesting character in this film. Despite the otherwise clunky filmmaking, she has an instant likability about her. Unfortunately, she has only two minutes of screen time.

Ryan and Maya settle into their cabin – large and modernized with running water and electricity. It isn’t long before there is a knock at the cabin door and the familiar Strangers franchise horror kick-off begins with a woman in shadows asking, “Is Tamara here?”

Who is Tamara? The film never explains, but this is how the victim torment begins in all Strangers films.

maya in the cabin kitchen in her boyfriends long shirt

Maya surveys the kitchen. © 2024 Lionsgate

The story follows Ryan and Maya through one bad decision after another. Ryan has left his inhaler in his car in town and needs to go get it. He leaves Maya at the cabin, despite the creepy encounter with the woman at the door. At least he’ll be bringing back food for them when he returns.

While he’s gone, there are more knocks at the door, more ominous questions about Tamara and obvious footsteps in the house that aren’t Maya’s or Ryan’s. The sound design makes it obvious that someone else is in the house, but Maya is excruciatingly oblivious.

maya plays piano in an overhead shot

Maya plays the piano while on a break from her terror. © 2024 Lionsgate

Though terrified, Maya decides to light up a joint, play the piano and take a shower. While showering we see who has been stomping around the house, a big guy in a burlap mask – a familiar franchise face. He stands inches from the glass shower door. Maya doesn’t see him, and when she turns, he’s gone. I suppose we’re supposed to be terrified, but at this point we’re starting to cross into unintended comedy.

There was nowhere for this guy to go except down a long hallway, and per the rules of the story, the intruders don’t have supernatural powers. Where did he go? Who knows.

dollface looks back as she walks through dense forrest in search of her victim

Dollface looks for her victim. © 2024 Lionsgate

One of the most terrifying scenes is when Ryan returns to the cabin. He and Maya chow down on their burgers. Ryan’s is a monstrously thick burger; Maya’s is petite and vegan. What unfolds is the most uncomfortable eating of a hamburger. Ketchup smeared across his face and fingers. It’s meant as a gag, to lighten the mood but is much more disgusting than the film’s actual violence.

Why bring that up?

Because that’s this movie in a nutshell – a bag of terrible plot tricks with characters who are completely dumb combined to make a messy story that elicits little more than a laugh at the film’s expense.

We are given one final, good scare at the end. Just before the credits, the following words appear on-screen: “To be continued.”

Yes. There are two more of these films coming and, according to IMDb, they are presently in post-production.

Rated: R (Language, Horror Violence, Brief Drug Use)
Running Time: 1h 31min
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Written by: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Bryan Bertino
Starring: Froy Gutierrez, Madelaine Petch, Matus Lajcak, Olivia Kreutzova, Letizia Fabbri, Ema Horvath

Horror, Mystery & Thriller

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