The Strangers: Chapter 1 review – "The marketing is the most distinctive thing about this horror"

The Strangers: Chapter 1
(Image: © Lionsgate)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

The first of Harlin’s trilogy, shot back-to-back, might make you ask, "Why are you doing this?!"

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Renny Harlin’s movie is the first part of a trilogy that, we’re told, will open out the Strangers universe to an epic scale and explain just why randoms in masks are invading houses to do horrible things (thus missing the entire point). In the meantime, Chapter 1 starts things off small, content with effectively being a remake of Bryan Bertino’s gloriously senseless and suspenseful 2008 movie.

It opens with loved-up young couple Maya and Gregory (Madelaine Petsch, Gabriel Basso) enjoying a road trip and establishing just how happy they are. Such bliss can only be fleeting, and sure enough their car breaks down in Hicksville, USA, forcing them to spend the night in a remote house. But wait… who’s that rapping at the door? Why, it’s Pinup Girl, Dollface and the Man in the Mask, of course…

Marking Harlin’s trumpeted return to a genre in which he established himself as something of a journeyman (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Exorcist: The Beginning), The Strangers: Chapter 1 makes decent use of its contained setting – the house itself, to wheel out the cliché, is its own character – but can’t cut through the sense of fatigue. 

Bertino’s original is a superbly orchestrated exercise in streamlined dread, the poster child for the modern home-invasion movie. But it’s been much copied since, and Harlin’s effort lacks not only the surprise factor but the controlled craft. The most distinctive thing about it? The marketing, which has seen its masked killers popping up all over America scaring real people.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 is in US theaters and UK cinemas on May 17. For more, here are our guides to all the upcoming horror movies on the way and our selection of the best horror movies of all time.

Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.