The Strangers : Chapter 1

The Strangers : Chapter 1
Original title:The Strangers : Chapter 1
Director:Renny Harlin
Running time:91 minutes
Release date:17 may 2024
On their way to start a new life in the Pacific Northwest, a couple's car breaks down in Oregon, and they're forced to spend the night in a remote Airbnb where they're sequestered from dusk to dawn by three masked strangers.

Mulder's Review

Renny Harlin's The Strangers: Chapter 1 attempts to revive the 2008 horror classic The Strangers, originally directed by Bryan Bertino. The 2008 film was a harrowing home invasion thriller that captivated audiences with its raw tension and dark atmosphere. Unfortunately, Renny Harlin's remake, the first part of a planned trilogy, struggles to justify its existence, ultimately offering a dull, uninspired experience.

The story follows Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez), a couple from Chicago who travel to Portland for Maya's job interview. Their trip takes a dark turn when their car breaks down in a hostile small town. The couple ends up spending the night in an isolated Airbnb, where they soon encounter three masked intruders who terrorize them. This setup mirrors the premise of the original film, but fails to inject any new twists or innovations.

Madelaine Petsch, known for her role in Riverdale, plays the lead role of Maya. Petsch delivers a commendable performance, managing to inject energy and emotion into her character. Her portrayal of fear and vulnerability is remarkable and one of the film's few bright spots. Froy Gutierrez's Ryan, on the other hand, is less convincing. The script gives him little to work with, resulting in an underdeveloped, bland character.

One of the main problems with The Strangers: Chapter 1 is the characters' lack of depth. Unlike the protagonists of the 2008 film, who were deeply engaging and whose fear was palpable, Maya and Ryan are one-dimensional. This makes it difficult for the audience to become invested in their survival, which is crucial for a film of this genre.

Renny Harlin, once a Hollywood heavyweight with films like Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, seems out of his element here. The original The Strangers was praised for its claustrophobic tension and eerie atmosphere. Renny Harlin's remake, however, looks like a shadow of its predecessor. The film is marred by incoherent editing and a lack of spatial coherence, particularly during scenes set in the woods. These sequences are confusing and prevent the audience from following the action.

The film's aesthetics also suffer from a lack of originality. The masked intruders, who wear the same burlap sack, babydoll mask and pin-up mask as in the original film, don't evoke the same sense of dread. Their presence feels more like a cheap homage than an original reinterpretation. What's more, Renny Harlin's direction lacks the subtlety and finesse that Bryan Bertino brought to the original. Whereas Bertino's film was a masterpiece in building tension through silence and stillness, Harlin's effort seems forced and derivative.

Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland's screenplay fails to breathe new life into the story. The plot closely follows the rhythms of the original film, but without any suspense or innovation. The script lacks the finesse and psychological depth that made the 2008 film so captivating. Dialogue is often stilted and banal, and plot points seem recycled and predictable.

One of the biggest disappointments is the film's inability to create any real tension. The original The Strangers relentlessly created an oppressive, suffocating atmosphere. In contrast, The Strangers: Chapter 1 doesn't have the same level of intensity. The scares are telegraphed and rely heavily on cheap jump scares rather than any lasting sense of dread.

José David Montero's cinematography is decent but uninspired. The film's visual style hardly sets it apart from countless other horror films. The use of lighting and shadows, so effective in the original, is pedestrian here. There are a few moments when the masked intruders are framed in a way that hints at the threat they should convey, but these moments are fleeting and lack the impact necessary to leave a lasting impression.

The film's setting, an isolated Airbnb in the woods, has the potential to be deeply unsettling. However, Renny Harlin and his team fail to exploit it to the full. The house, which should be considered a character in its own right, is underutilized. The lack of a coherent spatial layout detracts from the impression of claustrophobia and confinement that the original film was able to create so well.

One of the major shortcomings of The Strangers: Chapter 1 is its pacing. The film takes too long to establish its premise and characters, and when the horror elements finally get going, they lack the necessary urgency and intensity. Several sequences are so poorly edited that it's not clear what's happening on screen. This lack of coherence disrupts the flow of the film and reduces the potential for suspense.

The long sequence in the woods is a particular weak point. The lack of spatial coherence makes it difficult to follow the characters' movements, making the visual experience confusing and frustrating. Overall, the film's editing feels rushed and haphazard, further highlighting the lack of care and attention to detail.

One of the most haunting aspects of the original film was its nihilistic depiction of random violence. The killers had no motive, a revelation that had the effect of a sickening thud. The Strangers: Chapter 1 attempts to retain this theme, but proves more sadistic than existentially terrifying. The film's nihilism seems forced and doesn't have the same impact on the gut.

The original's minimalist narrative and ambiguous killer motivations helped create a sense of despair and terror. Harlin's film, however, fails to capture the subtleties that made the original so effective. Instead, it over-explains and over-complicates, diluting the horror.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is a disappointing attempt to revive a horror classic. It suffers from a lack of originality, uninspired direction and a weak script. Although Madelaine Petsch delivers a commendable performance, it's not enough to save the film from its many shortcomings. The film feels like a pale imitation of its predecessor, lacking the tension, atmosphere and psychological depth that made the original so memorable. 

As the first part of a trilogy, The Strangers: Chapter 1 sets the bar very low. It's hard to generate enthusiasm for subsequent chapters when the first act is so disappointing. For fans of the original, this remake will probably be a disappointment. For new viewers, it's an uninspired introduction to a story that deserved a more innovative and compelling retelling. This is all the more regrettable given that Renny Harlin is an erxcellent director and has directed such memorable horror films as Prison (1987), A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) and Mindhunters (2024).

The Strangers: Chapter 1
Directed by Renny Harlin
Written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland
Story by Bryan Bertino
Based on The Strangers by Bryan Bertino
Produced by Alastair Birlingham, Mark Canton, Charlie Dombeck, Christopher Milburn
Starring  Madelaine Petsch, Froy Gutierrez, Gabriel Basso
Cinematography : José David Montero
Music by Justin Burnett
Production companies : Lionsgate Films, Fifth Element Productions, Frame Film
Distributed by Lionsgate Films (United States), Metropolitan Films (France)
Release date : May 15, 2024 (France), May 17, 2024 (United States)
Running time : 91 minutes

Seen on May 17, 2024 at Gaumont Disney Village, Room 8 seat A19

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