The Strangers
Photograph: John Armour/Lionsgate
  • Film
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The Strangers: Chapter 1

3 out of 5 stars

This mask-wearing slasher kicks off a new horror trilogy in impressively unsettling style


Time Out says

Generations of family drama, the battle between good and evil, a precious ring to rule them all: these are the mighty themes that inspire classic trilogies. Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger), however, watched 2008's so-so horror flick The Strangers and thought: ‘What we really need is more of this.’ And so here we are with a reboot that is, as the title ostentatiously announces, merely the first in a projected trio.

In other words, you may watch The Strangers: Chapter 1 with a healthy dose of skepticism. And then you will return home, check every lock twice, and sleep with all the lights on. Creepy masks, it turns out, really are all the hook one needs.

Well. Creepy masks and some frankly petrifying jump scares. But let's back up, to the day roadtrippers Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) pull into a tiny backwoods town. After inadvertently offending everyone in the local diner – she's a vegetarian, he's from New York – they find that Ryan’s BMW is mysteriously broken. Then they learn the sole mechanic shop is closed. And finally, they discover there's only one place to stay overnight: a remote cabin in the woods, owned by an absent hunter.

So off to that eerie outpost they go, where, um, hijinks ensue. Stairs creak, handles rattle, and this sweet but dim pair take every opportunity to put themselves in harm's way. Because the strangers – silent figures who walk softly but carry a big axe – are, of course, in the house. And damn, those blank-eyed masks they wear are unsettling.

Creepy masks really are the only hook you need

When your movie's tagline is: ‘They don’t need a reason’, plot evidently sits pretty low on the priority list. But Harlin, who made one of the more memorable Nightmare on Elm Street sequels (The Dream Master), does know what he's doing. He's inspired both by the original Strangers – which also transcended a basic script though palpable dread – and the best '70s slasher films. There’s a single goal here: to scare the hell out of us.

Music supervisor Justin Burnett understands when to drop a needle (‘Nights in White Satin’ has never been ickier), and when to fire up the angry strings. And cinematographer Jose David Montero delivers an impressively thoughtful range of shots that are deftly edited into a viscerally stressful experience. 

Petsch and Gutierrez aren't bad, they just don't have much to work with. This will – and should – disappoint Riverdale fans, who know how great Petsch can be. But they're likable enough to root for anyway.

As for the strangers, all they need to be is terrifying, a task at which they consistently excel. Just make sure to stay through the credits. That is, if you haven’t already rushed home to bolt the doors.

Out worldwide May 17.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Renny Harlin
  • Cast:
    • Gabriel Basso
    • Madelaine Petsch
    • Rachel Shenton
    • Ema Horvath
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