The Strangers: Chapter 1 Review – A Mediocre Start to the Home Invasion Trilogy

The Strangers Chapter 1
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A violent and dangerous trio returns to theaters for the first time since 2018. The Strangers became a surprise franchise after a ten-year gap between the first two features. While 2008’s edition evolved into cult status, director Renny Harlin began formulating a plan. In conjunction with Lionsgate, Harlin brings The Strangers: Chapter 1 to theaters this weekend. As part of a filmed trilogy, the action and horror director has an opportunity to turn these characters into horror icons. Harlin brings his sense of style to the flick, which becomes a necessity. The first part of this new series primarily retells Bryan Bertino’s original story while grounding it firmly in the Pacific Northwest.

The Strangers: Chapter 1

The Strangers: Chapter 1 – Plot

A young couple, Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) and Maya (Madeline Petsch), make their way to Portland for a job interview. As they do, they celebrate their fifth anniversary. After hours on the road, they pull into a small local restaurant. After they meet some of the locals, they return to their car and find out it will not start. They book an Airbnb for the night, but soon, a strange woman begins knocking at the door. Ryan and Maya find themselves fighting for survival and soon lose their only methods of escape. The Man in the Mask, Pin-Up Girl, and Dollface hunt the couple in the darkness.

The Strangers: Chapter 1

The Critique

The Strangers: Chapter 1 runs into two issues early in the story. The first stems from its aesthetic, which openly copies the visual palette of David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy and the Radio Silence Scream movies. The cinematography is slick, and there’s an effort to bring the grittiness of the reality to life. Harlin adds some tactility to the palette, but it makes The Strangers feel like a follower rather than a leader in ushering a new style.


The more frustrating aspect of Harlin’s first part comes in the narrative this time. Yes, we know a trilogy is incoming. However, by making Chapter 1 as bare bones as it is, complete with callbacks to the original movie, Harlin has replicated the television model. There’s not enough story in this part, which is a frustrating development as it repeats beats from stronger slasher and home invasion films. The foundation laid here seems likely to pay dividends long term, but in this entry, it feels undercooked.

Screenwriters Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freeland do an admirable job at making the Ryan and Maya relationship work. Ryan struggles with other characters, especially a group of locals who rib him with jokes, only to receive rude retorts. Yet when they’re set alone, Ryan and Maya show more caring aspects of their relationship. It’s an intimate look at how couples often differ from their public personas behind closed doors. Cohen, Freeland, and Harlin get credit for establishing this aspect because it ultimately helps us want Maya and Ryan to escape their horrific fates.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 Post Credit Scene
The Strangers – Chapter 1. Photo Credit: John Armour

To their credit, The Strangers: Chapter 1 leans into some horror tropes and subverts them. One scene almost feels pulled from a recent commercial, where the characters can choose between running down a road or hiding in a creepy location. Yet, as the story unfolds, their only chance of survival appears possible in a location most would consider deadly. The characters make some questionable decisions early on, but if you’re watching a horror film, that goes with the territory. However, as the narrative unfolds, Harlin ensures that each small moment or injury is addressed. The characters get somewhat wiser as it unfolds but are simply outmaneuvered or outmuscled by those hunting them.


At other times, Harlin gives us the camera from the killers’ perspective. This serves to help us believe in the actions of our protagonist at times. One scene, where a killer looks down into a ravine, allows us to see the protagonist is visible to the naked eye. By giving us the POV shot, it helps reveal that the killers are into the hunt and are choosing to toy with their victims. It’s a subtle trick that lends to the challenge facing the three faceless killers.

Harlan continues to showcase his ability to create memorable images. However, there are also moments when The Strangers: Chapter 1 suffers from creating a cool image, even when it logically makes no sense in the story. The most egregious moments include a shower shot and a character listening to Maya playing a piano. While the individual moment is stirring as a visual spectacle, there’s no logic to how it would work without raising suspicion. Still, the cinematography rises above most horror movies. With enough energy in the pacing, there’s plenty to enjoy about the craft on display.

The Strangers Chapter 1 Post Credits
Madelaine Petsch as Maya in The Strangers – Chapter 1. Photo Credit: John Armour


Despite some aspects rising above the standard horror flick, The Strangers: Chapter 1 leaves something to be desired. Harlin’s first foray into the franchise is a mostly enjoyable and scary experience. It’s a shame it focuses more on working as part of a preconceived, three-part story rather than delivering an excellent opening chapter.



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Written by Alan French

Articles Published: 33

Alan French began writing about film and television by covering the awards and Oscar beat in 2016. Since then, he has written hundreds of reviews on film and television. He attends film festivals regularly. He is a Rotten Tomato-approved critic and is on the committee for the Critics Association of Central Florida.