The Strangers: Chapter 1 review | Renny Harlin breathes new life into a long-dormant franchise

the strangers chapter 1 (1)
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Call it a remake or a reboot of Bryan Bertino’s 2008 original terrorfest, The Strangers: Chapter 1 is a devilishly fun, if disposable, slasher. Our review of Renny Harlin’s latest horror film. 

Bryan Bertino’s 2008 film The Strangers is remembered as one of the most terrifying horror films of all time. Unlike Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Saw or Psycho, barely a drop of blood is spilled until the final act, yet the impact of the film was seminal at the time. 

The film spawned a critically panned sequel, The Strangers: Prey At Night, which took the action from a single location to a holiday park, with disastrous consequences. Now, attempting the seeming impossible, Finnish director Renny Harlin takes control of the franchise and brings us not just one, but three films set in the same universe. 

The Strangers: Chapter 1 works as a kind of a remake of Bertino’s original. Mileage will already vary based on whether you would want such a film, but if you’re able to forgive Harlin and co. for reimagining The Strangers, you might find yourself enjoying this one. 

the strangers chapter 1 Madelaine Petsch Froy Gutierrez
Credit: Lionsgate

Maya (Riverdale’s Madeleine Petsch) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) are on a road trip towards Portland where Maya has a big job interview. They pull into the small town of Venus for some food, only to get stuck there after their car mysteriously breaks down. 

Stranded in Venus for the night, Maya and Ryan stay at a remote AirBnB cabin where they find themselves stalked by three strangers with masks on. 

Read more: Interview | Renny Harlin on The Strangers: Chapter 1

The Strangers: Chapter 1 follows Bertino’s film almost beat for beat, which will certainly work against the film when it comes to die-hard fans of the original. The narrative offers no surprises, but Harlin directs the film with a steely coolness. The effectiveness of three complete strangers targeting you for no apparent reason hasn’t lost any of its resonance over the years and The Strangers: Chapter 1 is a thematically chilling slasher at its core. 

The main question in everyone’s mind is, is the film as good as the original? There’s no straightforward answer to that. Chapter 1 is a traditional slasher and there’s something refreshing about that. Harlin doesn’t aim for elevated horror status here, instead prioritising entertainment value and frights. Chapter 1 is hugely enjoyable and entertaining, but it can’t always capture the sheer creepiness of Bertino’s film. 

That’s not to say that Chapter 1 isn’t scary. As stated before, the premise is effective and Harlin creates a lot of tension. Petsch and Gutierrez make for compelling leads and there’s a sweetness to their romance, even if it feels a little too borrowed directly from the original. However, the first film benefited enormously from the prickly dynamic between its leads and the new iteration lacks that, opting for a much more straightforward, romantic relationship. 

What’s interesting is that this is only one of three films, so whereas Bertino’s narrative ended as its closing credits rolled – and much of the film’s terror came from that – there’s more story to tell here. All three films were shot simultaneously in 2022, and while we know little of the two remaining Chapters, it’ll be intriguing to see whether they’ll be straightforward sequels that return to the same set-up and storyline or if they’ll take a different approach. 

Do we need The Strangers: Chapter 1? Probably not, but we didn’t really need The Thing in 1982 either. There’s a lot of fun to be had with Harlin’s remake, but it’s only once we’ve seen the remaining two films that we can really say whether or not this reboot is successful and offers something meaningful for horror fans. 

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is in UK cinemas on the 17th May. 

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