film / tv / substack / social media / lists / web / celeb / pajiba love / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / substack / web / celeb

strangers-chapter-1-new-poster.jpg

Hopefully 'The Strangers' Trilogy is Better Than a Sum of Its Parts

By Lindsay Traves | Film | May 16, 2024 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | May 16, 2024 |


strangers-chapter-1-new-poster.jpg

2008’s The Strangers is the kind of smash hit fans dream of. There was no reliance on a previous baddie, no over-the-top setup, just a stellar cast, a crafty creative, and a premise bent on haunting even the most confident of horror aficionados. A couple at a vacation home is terrorized by some slash-happy killers whose only motivation is “you were home.” Its less successful follow-up expands on the idea somewhat, adding a bit more action but mostly committing to the idea that these are random killings, a premise that makes the title so special. Capitalizing off the success and with a new release strategy comes The Strangers: Chapter 1, a loose retelling to set up a fresh trilogy with shared DNA. While this newest take on the slasher is ultimately a fun ride, it erases the spirit of the original movie’s fear of random faceless strangers in favor of creating a rural slasher.

In the same vein as some other predecessors, and less like the MCU and more like Fear Street, this story is built as a trilogy, all films created at once being released in rapid succession. The difference between this trio and Fear Street is that the latter was dropped on a streaming service most of us already have access to, and this is asking us to buy a theater ticket. Will audiences be ready and willing to line up for round two after what the first one delivers? I’d venture it’ll depend more on the intrigue of the unexplained plot threads than on the quality of the movie alone.

Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez lead as Maya and Ryan, a loving couple on their way to explore a job prospect for Maya. On their journey through America, the hungry duo stops by a small-town diner where they’re confronted with the judgmental gaze of salt-of-the-earth townsfolk. Trying to get back on the road, they discover their car isn’t working and they’re gently forced to leave it with the nearby mechanic and spend the night at a local rental. Trying to settle into the remote home, the pair has minor inconveniences leading them to separate and soon find themselves being tormented by a trio of masked assailants. Much like its inspiration, the two are teased and tortured by masked slashers who’ve invaded this rental home, the film working to catch these new characters up to speed with the original features as a means of sending the lead off into a trilogy.

With intention, there is a lot of similarity between the original and this film: a couple discussing marriage, a mysterious home, and someone asking for “Tamara,” an excuse to get the man out of the house and into town, and of course, those three creepy masks. But that doesn’t make this a complete rehash so much as a very intentional attempt at changing up the original to catch it up to the intentions of the trilogy. In this story, it’s not a couple at a tumultuous time visiting a known home surrounded by random strangers, it’s a couple very much in love, renting a spooky home after an uncomfortable run-in with middle-American townspeople. It becomes less a cohort of its innovative source material and more of a rural slasher reminiscent of a franchise installment in Wrong Turn, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or even House of Wax. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and shedding that criticism, we can still look at this film on its own merits- as a mid-tier but well-shot slasher filled with some of the dumbest characters of the decade.

This trilogy wants us to fall in love with Maya so it takes time to paint her as a positive light you can’t help but root for. Managing her paranoid boyfriend is part of that, which all leads up to Maya and Ryan making decisions frustrating even to an undiscerning viewer. Would most of us insist on calling AAA, a tow truck, or sleeping standing up in the mechanic’s office? I’d think so. But if we did concede and decide to spend time in some wide-open hunter’s home, I’d like to hope none of us would get drunk, high, dance pants-less, and take a shower after experiencing a menacing person rapping on the door then sending our boyfriend out into the night on a motorcycle he found outside. There’s little merit in listing all the poor decisions the duo makes, but sufficient to point out that they’re so frustrating that it becomes difficult to remain bought into the story.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 has two important jobs: it has to set up and sell a trilogy and be a solid horror flick. It does the former much better than it does the latter and leaves us to wonder whether that will pay off. Though it sinks by crafting an ordinary rural slasher story, it swims by shooting a gorgeous-looking movie with crafty mirror scares (and a few too many money shots of the killers begging to be on feeds). It sprinkles in enough to beg you to come back for more (what’s with that church? Was that Richard Brake? What team is Eden on?), but it shows its under-confidence with a lackluster mid-credits scene to tease what’s coming and by denying its audience even the smallest of reveals. It remains to be seen whether the next two installments will be worth the cost of entry, and I’m for now caught between admiring this bold release strategy and the interesting story-telling ability it affords and wondering if we’re pumping out a trilogy under a banner that doesn’t allow for it.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 hits theaters May 17, 2024