L Movie Review 2

An effective horror movie doesn’t need a big budget or an elaborate set-up to terrorize an audience. A plot that plays on everyday fears will do the trick. If a story can tap into the garden-variety nightmares of moviegoers, a simple premise can become petrifying. Being stalked, facing an unknown intruder, or the violation of a safe space are terrifying situations that in real life can send a person straight to a therapist’s couch.

In 2008, Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers worked its way into the horror zeitgeist through an effective narrative that revitalized the genre’s home invasion trope and created a modern classic that efficiently terrified contemporary audiences. The brutality of a trio of strangers attacking an innocent couple for fun and giggles played on viewers’ fears, making the film a neo-classic in the genre. Now it’s finding a fresh start, with director Renny Harlin hoping to recapture the shock and awe of the original movie. But will The Strangers: Chapter 1 leave the same impression? 

Harlin’s reboot sets the stage for an upcoming trilogy. Penned by Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland, the film stars Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez as Maya and Ryan, an impossibly adorable couple who find themselves stranded in an isolated Oregon town after a car breakdown, and who must Airbnb a house while repairs are made. Once they are settled in, a trio of home intruders begins to terrorize them in a series of well-worn scenarios. After starting off with a new setting and new characters, the story mirrors the original formula almost beat by beat. A home invasion film with good old-fashioned body horror thrown in for added merriment, Chapter 1 is a rehash of the 2008 outing, though with small alterations and promises to continue the saga, as Maya attempts to outrun, outsmart, and outlive the intruding trio.  

A good portion of Chapter 1 is torture porn for beginners — training wheels for extreme cinema, for folks who are not quite ready for the lurid excesses of Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999) or Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Two Thousand Maniacs (1964). Harlin’s film creates tension by building on the mutilations to come rather than languishing in the gore, like many extreme filmmakers. Gutierrez and Petsch effectively carry much of the movie, with one tearful, fearful close-up after another as they scurry from room to room. It’s not easy to hold an audience’s interest with only a few locations and a limited cast, but the duo, particularly Petsch, keeps things moving with their attempts at escape. If anything, Petsch’s turn proves that Riverdale was fertile ground for great actors (i.e., Charles Melton going on to do May December) who were initially held back by scripts that included teenage thrill-kill cults, teen FBI agents, and pseudoscience involving serial killer genes.

Good performances and the promise of a trilogy will help The Strangers: Chapter 1 find its audience, even if it’s pretty much a carbon copy of the 2008 film (with slightly different jump scares). Folks looking for new adventures in a horror icon will be disappointed, but some fans of the original movie (and people who hate Airbnb) will find Chapter 1 amusing — it captures the flavor of the original, recreating much of the tension that made the film revered in the genre. But horrorhounds looking for new exploits in the Strangers world will not find it quite yet. Maybe that will arrive in Chapter 2. 




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