Combustible Celluloid Review - The Strangers: Chapter I (2024), Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Renny Harlin, Madelaine Petsch, Froy Gutierrez, Ben Cartwright, Ema Horvath, Rachel Shenton
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Madelaine Petsch, Froy Gutierrez, Ben Cartwright, Ema Horvath, Rachel Shenton
Written by: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland
Directed by: Renny Harlin
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 91
Date: 05/17/2024

The Strangers: Chapter I (2024)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Trespassing the Buck

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The third entry in a not-very-good series that began back in 2008 with The Strangers (and continued ten years later with The Strangers: Prey at Night), Renny Harlin's horror "home invasion" movie The Strangers: Chapter I makes no improvements and adds nothing new to the formula, and it still fails to work.

Couple Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) are taking a road trip to celebrate their fifth anniversary. They stop for lunch in the small town of Venus, Oregon, but when they get back to their car, it won't start. A local mechanic (Ben Cartwright) informs them that he has to send out for a part. A server at the cafe, Shelly (Ema Horvath) drives them to an Airbnb where they can spend the night.

At first, it seems like a romantic evening, but trouble begins when a creepy figure knocks at the door and asks for someone who isn't there. Then, Ryan must head back to town to find his inhaler, and Maya begins seeing strange masked figures everywhere. When one of them attacks Maya, the couple realizes they are in for the fight of their lives.

For some reason, The Strangers: Chapter I is the first in a trilogy that director Renny Harlin shot all at once. Perhaps the future installments will expand upon the story, but this time around it's pretty scant.

Harlin, best known for his action movies, does have Nightmare on Elm Street and Exorcist entries on his resume, and this one looks professional, but it's lifeless. It makes all the same mistakes, such as the "strangers" seemingly possessing the ability to appear and disappear suddenly and noiselessly.

The killers, which are definitely creepy with their masks with black, empty eyes, and in the casual way they move, are otherwise totally uninteresting; they have no dimension, no flaws. And, as ever, the heroes aren't terribly smart (although they may be a teensy bit more resilient than in the earlier movies). Characters are forever tripping over things or forgetting their phones.

In one scene, Ryan returns from town and stomps and creaks all over the house looking for Maya, without ever calling her name (we're meant to think he's one of the strangers). Maya unwisely takes a shower while he's gone (has she seen no horror movies?). And the strangers use an axe to bash a door in when they've already shown that they can just magically appear inside. There are, of course, dumb jump-scares aplenty as well.

Weirdly, the whole thing starts with an opening crawl about the frequency of violent crimes in the United States, then makes no further comment. Ultimately, The Strangers: Chapter I seems like little more than a place-holder, a vacant attempt to wring more money out of a fizzled franchise.

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