Major spoilers ahead for The Strangers: Chapter 1. You’ve been warned. 



Back in 2008, a little horror flick came out called The Strangers. Its premise was incredibly simple: three masked killers randomly terrorize a couple staying at a vacation home. Costing just $9 million to make, it became a sleeper hit and ended up making $52 million just in the United States. It also garnered a decent cult following over the years, eventually leading to the 2018 sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night. While it didn’t make the same huge box office, the flick’s reputation as a decent sequel with a major 80’s flair inducted the homicidal trio into the pantheon of favorite horror movie characters.  

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So here we are in 2024 and Hollywood, in their never-ending quest to mine the life out of every IP they can get their hands on, has The Strangers returning yet again for The Strangers: Chapter 1. Now, I went into this flick with the assumption that it was going to be a prequel. That’s kind of what “Chapter 1” implies. Not only that but there’s a tagline on the trailer that says, “See how The Strangers became The Strangers.”  

Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) and Maya (Madelaine Petsch) relax on the porch in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Froy Gutierrez, Madelaine Petsch in The Strangers: Chapter 1

But that’s not what I got. In fact, I’m not even sure what to call it to categorize it. But before we get into that, let’s get into the story. It starts in a forest, where there’s a suited guy (Ryan Bown) running away from something. He falls and soon ends up surrounded by The Strangers: two women and one man. The man (Matus Lajcak) has a burlap sack over his head and a shabby suit and looks like a Scarecrow. (In the other Strangers flicks, he’s known only as The Man in the Mask). He kills the poor dude with an axe. 

Cut to our new victims, Ryan (Froy Gutierrez) and his girlfriend Maya (Riverdale’s Madelaine Petsch), on a road trip for their 5-year dating anniversary. They decide to stop in a little town called Venus to get something to eat. In typical horror fashion, all the local yokels in the diner stare daggers at them, rolling their eyes at their big-city-ness, especially Maya’s vegetarian requirements. But on the wall behind the cash register is a poster for a missing man – the same guy we saw in the beginning. 

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When they go to leave, big surprise – their car won’t start. The town mechanic, Rudy (Ben Cartwright) offers to fix it, of course. Ryan’s pissed, knowing it’s a scam and that it was Rudy who sabotaged it. But having no real choice, Ryan agrees to leave it with him. One of the waitresses, Shelly (Ema Horvath) tells them there’s an Airbnb cabin not too far away that they can rent for the night, and she drives them out there. 

Maya and Ryan settle into the quaint house, put on some music (a requirement for any Strangers flick), have a few beers and are just about to get busy when there’s a loud knock at the door. In classic Strangers structure, there’s a shadowy figure asking, “Is Tamara here?” Ryan tells her no and she walks away. But then the shadowy girl watches them from a distance for an uncomfortable moment. Then Ryan realizes he left his inhaler (oh, how Hollywood loves asthma and diabetes as instant plot complications) in the car so he takes the motorcycle that just happens to be there back to town.  

When Ryan gets to his car, Rudy nearly attacks him, thinking he’s trying to steal it. Ryan apologizes and there’s a weird sort-of stare down between the two. Clearly, Rudy’s not quite right in the head. Then when Ryan goes to a local pop-up to grab some food, some of the locals try to get him to have a drink with them. He says no and the locals make fun of him, saying he thinks he’s too good for them. 

Maya (Madelaine Petsch) looks for the source of creepy noises in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Madelaine Petsch in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Meanwhile, Maya putters around the house until bang-bang-bang! She goes to the door and hears the same “Is Tamara here?” again. But she doesn’t open the door this time and basically tells the girl to go away. Freaked out, Maya lights up a joint and smokes a while to calm herself. Then she sits down at the piano and plays a little Beethoven while unbeknownst to her, Scarecrow sits right behind her, listening. Then he disappears, which The Strangers are famous for doing. 

Then, as she walks into another room, Maya runs right into one of the other killers, known as Dollface (Olivia Kruetzova). Terrified, Maya scrambles to hide in a closet. She hears footsteps approaching and cowers – but it’s Ryan, back from town. She tells him what happened, and Ryan tries to calm her down, saying it was probably just the ugly clown painting on the wall that she saw, since she is kinda high, after all.

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They sit at the kitchen table to eat their burgers (or in Maya’s case, the bun with lettuce and tomato). But then they notice something red dripping on them from above. They look up and are both horrified to see a dead chicken tied to the light, dripping blood. They start running around trying to lock the doors and windows, but then the attack begins in full as Scarecrow’s axe bashes through the front door. 

Maya and Ryan barricade themselves in a bedroom but Scarecrow goes at the door with the axe. He stops after a while, though, and doesn’t enter. He just stands there staring at them through the busted door before walking away. Maya realizes that the house has a crawlspace underneath the floor, so they start crawling their way outside. They hear The Strangers’ footsteps above, and when Maya accidentally puts a nail through her hand, Ryan has to nearly smother her to keep her quiet.  

They manage to get out to the shed, but then Dollface and Scarecrow attack Maya, Scarecrow bashing through the window and grabbing Maya from behind. Then Ryan comes to the rescue, having found a shotgun. He blasts away and Dollface and Scarecrow retreat. Maya and Ryan sneak along the porch and hear approaching footsteps. Ryan preemptively fires, and he thinks he’s gotten Scarecrow – but it turns out to be the cabin’s owner (Satko Stanislav).  

Scarecrow (Matus Lajcak) and Pin-Up Girl (Letizia Fabbri) share a hug in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Matus Lajcak, Letizia Fabbri in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Ryan’s horrified at what he’s done, but he and Maya realize they can use the guy’s car to get away and his cell phone to call the cops. They jump in and back out, but then Scarecrow rams them with his old junker truck. Ryan’s leg gets pinned and he tells Maya to run. Scarecrow hangs out with Ryan in the car for a bit, playing with the stereo before disappearing again. 

Maya runs through the woods to around the same area where the guy in the beginning was. She hides herself in a pile of leaves and sticks when she hears someone approaching. Turns out to be Dollface, who scans the area before walking away. (Although one has to wonder just how well she can see wearing a mask in the middle of the dark woods, but anyway.) Maya uses the cell phone to call 911 and manages to get through, whispering what little she knows of the location to the dispatcher before the connection drops. 

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Maya turns around and is horrified to find the decaying corpse of that poor guy from the beginning before she runs off. She doesn’t get far, though, before Dollface knocks her out and drags her off. Meanwhile, Ryan manages to get his leg unstuck and he runs out into the woods after Maya. The third member of the Strangers, Pin-Up Girl (Letizia Fabbri) confronts Ryan, and the two have this awkwardly long standoff where Ryan keeps threatening her with the shotgun and Pin-Up Girl just puts the barrel to her forehead, laughing, yelling and screaming, daring him to shoot. Then Scarecrow finally puts an end to it by knocking him out with the butt of the axe. 

When Ryan wakes up, he finds himself and Maya back in the house tied to chairs with The Strangers standing before them. Knowing they’re about to die, Ryan asks Maya to marry him. She accepts before Scarecrow jams a knife into Ryan’s chest. He kicks Ryan’s chair over, silently watching him bleed out. Maya tearfully begs them to tell her why they’re doing this. And in classic Strangers fashion, Pin-Up Girl just says, “Because you’re here.” 

Dollface (Olivia Kreutzova) lurks at the top of the stairs in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Olivia Kruetzova in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Then Pin-Up hands over her knife to Scarecrow, who then stabs Maya and kicks her chair over. Then The Strangers leave, hearing the approaching sirens. They drive off into the woods to avoid the police cars. Next thing we know, we see Maya in the hospital, having apparently survived the stabbing. Ah, but wait! In a quick mid-credits stinger, we see Maya wake up in her hospital bed, not realizing that Scarecrow’s lying next to her. Then there’s a text card saying, “To Be Continued,”  and that’s it.


So the biggest question about The Strangers: Chapter 1 is this: what the hell is it? And right off the bat, that kind of confusion is not a good thing. Now I must admit that prequels are usually a pretty lame prospect, but I was interested in seeing a good origin story, which the trailer seemingly promised. Even though the very idea goes against what makes The Strangers scary – the randomness of their attacks and their anonymity – I thought there was potential for a good story there.  

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But it’s not a prequel, nor is it a sequel to Prey at Night. (Because spoiler alert, The Strangers die in that one – or, well, as much as any killer in a slasher flick ever really dies.) It’s also not a sidequel, so we’re left with a reboot, or the newest hot term – “reimagining.” And now that I’ve learned that there are two more flicks coming this year, I would say reboot is probably the closest thing. Because reimagining implies that the property will be reworked in a new way into something original. And for better or worse, The Strangers: Chapter 1 has nothing original going on. 

Dollface (Olivia Kreutzova) looks for Maya in the woods in The Strangers: Chapter 1

Olivia Kreutzova in The Strangers: Chapter 1

The only thing that happens in Chapter 1 that doesn’t happen in any of the other flicks is the introduction of the townspeople of Venus. Awesome veteran actor Richard Brake shows up in one shot in the diner as the sheriff but has no lines. I can only assume that he has a much bigger role in the next two, because otherwise, why bother hiring him? 

And at the end of Chapter 1, Maya lives to fight another day, which seems to set up the character in a Laurie Strode kinda situation. Which would be more appealing if Maya were more interesting. But as characters, both she and Ryan are even more boring than Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman were in the original. And that’s saying a lot. 

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In fact, aside from the townsfolk, The Strangers: Chapter 1 is almost a carbon copy of the original flick. Everything from the whole “Is Tamara home?” question to The Strangers randomly appearing and disappearing, to the accidental shooting of an innocent guy, to the girl being the only one to survive – is all exactly the same.  

So if a rehash of the same old same old is all you really want out of it, then you’ll be quite happy with The Strangers: Chapter 1. But honestly, you’d be better off just watching the original or Prey at Night, which dials up the dark, campy fun factor. Both are far superior to this one. And as for the upcoming flicks, well – we can only hope that they’ll be better than Chapter 1, because if they’re not, then what was the point in doing them at all? 

The Strangers: Chapter 1 poster

Directed by:  Renny Harlin 

Written by:  Bryan Bertino (story), Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland 

Release date:  May 17, 2024 

Rating:  R 

Run time:  1hr, 31min 

Distributor:  Lionsgate Films

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