One of the unlikeliest horror franchises to ever exist would be “The Strangers.” The first film with the eponymous title was directed and written by Bryan Bertino. An extremely low-budget film, it would be a bloodless horror thriller about three masked attackers staging a home invasion. The franchise had the flexibility, due to the long gaps between each successive release, to pay homage and mutate into horror movies of a specific era. Thus, the version in the 2020s effectively being a relaunch of the original almost makes sense in terms of the lack of originality in storytelling and simply utilizing the brand as an IP. With “The Strangers: Chapter 1,” the franchise has opened up again, albeit in a fashion that is not so interesting.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

Who Are the Strangers and Where is Venus?

“The Strangers: Chapter I” opens with a businessman fleeing through the woods during the early hours of the morning before he injures himself. As he tries to recover, he is cornered by the titular masked “strangers.” The movie then cuts to the “based on a true story” disclaimer, with the warning stating the number of home invasions that have occurred and how the current event being depicted is one of the most brutal.

The narrative then shifts to Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and her boyfriend Ryan (Froy Guttierez) celebrating their fifth anniversary by driving cross-country. They take a detour to drive towards a diner, almost colliding with a truck before finally arriving at the diner situated in the town of Venus. As they settle down to have lunch, the bizarre attitude of the locals perturbs them. Particularly, a missing-persons notice of the businessman shown in the first sequence is already put up, but none of the townspeople are particularly worried about it. To top off all their troubles, their car breaks down, and the mechanic Rudy could only fix it by the next morning, and thus they would have to spend the night at an “internet house” (Airbnb). Ryan is already suspicious of that endeavor, wondering whether it is a trap, while the friendly waitress Maya (Ema Horvath) directs them to the Airbnb.

Alone in the Dark: Will Maya Escape the Masked Threats?

As the couple begins to loosen up and enjoy each other’s company, Ryan realizes that he has left his inhaler back in the car and takes the motorcycle (presumably the Airbnb owner’s) back to town to retrieve it. Left alone, Maya is unaware that one masked assailant has managed to sneak inside the house—the scarecrow. She is further rattled when a sudden door knock breaks her solitude, and a woman asks whether Tamara is home, to which she dismisses them. This happens for a second time, due to which she calls Ryan and asks him to return quickly.

The power being cut off finally forces her to walk gingerly in the darkness and search throughout the house for an MCV switch. She is suddenly shocked by the presence of one of the dollface-wearing female assailants, and she runs and hides inside a closet. Maya finally manages to exit from the closet after Ryan’s return, who dismisses the presence of someone inside the house as a ruse. He also chases away the silhouette of a young woman watching the house from a distance.

Can Maya and Ryan Survive the Brutal Onslaught?

Ryan had managed to bring in food from the dinner, and while they were having dinner, they were blindsided by blood dripping from the ceiling. Their shocked and terrifying screams attributed the blood to the chicken head mounted on a chandelier. They were then attacked by the scarecrow, who broke open the door with the help of an axe while Ryan and Maya hid in another room.

The scarecrow, having opened the door, falls back while one of the dollfaces comes down from the stairs, fiddles with the record player, and then plays The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.” While one of the dollfaces pretends to play the piano, the other walks, sharpening a knife. The scarecrow, meanwhile, breaks the door of the other room where Maya and Ryan are hiding before walking away again.

Can Maya and Ryan Outsmart and Outrun the Masked Menace?

As the music stops and the house falls silent once more, the couple tries to escape with the help of the motorcycle, only for the motorcycle to be blown up by the scarecrow. Rushing inside and hiding in the bathroom, they manage to locate the crawlspace hidden behind a vent and use it to escape from the house, having to stay quiet even as Maya accidentally pierces her hand with a loose nail. Deciding that since this is a hunting rifle, which entails the owner of the house having a gun, the couple manages to run up to the toolshed and rummage through to find an axe.

Seated beside a window to nurse his wounded ankle, the two take a breather before Ryan notices a half-opened door with a staircase going upwards. As he walks towards the stairs to explore, the pin-up girl scares Maya while the scarecrow attacks her by choking her from behind with the help of his axe through the window. Ryan then shoots the scarecrow with a shotgun he had found upstairs but misses the pin-up girl, who surreptitiously hides away in the darkness.

Are Maya and Ryan successful at escaping the house?

As the two of them stealthily walk back to the house, armed with a shotgun and an axe, Ryan mistakenly shoots the owner of the Airbnb. They, however, realize an unexpected opportunity after having presented themselves and use the owner’s car to escape, but can’t avoid being t-boned by Scarecrow’s truck. Ryan’s leg gets stuck, rendering him unable to escape, while Maya runs into the woods and hides beneath the canopy to escape one of the dollfaces. Having retrieved one of the phones from the house, on account of their phones being damaged, Maya tries to call 911, but her call gets disconnected due to a spotty network. Realizing that she is lying on the canopy beside a corpse, she hurriedly tries to make her way through the forest, only to be discovered by Dollface and knocked out.

Meanwhile, Ryan had managed to put Scarecrow at bay by shooting through the windshield. Finally managing to free himself, he escapes from the destroyed truck by breaking down the cracked windshield and crawling through. Limping through the forest, he searches for Maya, not knowing that he is being searched by Scarecrow and Pin-up Girl. Ryan finally manages to sneak up on Pin-up Girl and hold the shotgun to her head, asking for Maya’s whereabouts before being knocked out by the Scarecrow.

Madelaine Petsch as Maya in The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024)
Madelaine Petsch as Maya in The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024)

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) Ending Explained:

Who survives at the end of the movie?

The duo wakes up being tied to chairs, with their three assailants looking at them and silently taunting them. As the two of them break down, traumatized and resigned to their fate, Ryan asks to marry Maya, which she accepts. In a literal knife-twisting end, the pin-up girl stabs Ryan in the back before pushing him down, leaving him to bleed out. When Maya, shocked and traumatized, asks her silent perpetrators why they are doing this, the Pin-Up girl responds simply and chillingly, “Because you are here.”.

However, the perpetrators are unable to complete the deed and deliver the killing blow to Maya, though they manage to stab her quite deeply because the sounds of police vehicles interrupt them, and they escape while Maya slowly loses consciousness. The movie finally ends with Maya in a hospital bed, recovering, albeit traumatized. We don’t know how many hours have passed or whether she has actually been rescued. The post-credits scene shows Maya slowly waking up and gulping down her sadness, not realizing that the scarecrow is lying beside her.

How different is “The Strangers: Chapter 1” from “The Strangers”?

Unlike the original movie (which this one almost copies beat by beat while updating it, albeit not effectively), there is a strong deviation towards the ending. The original movie ended with the couple being left for dead and no authorities to come to rescue them. As one of the bible kids comes across the brutalized house, they are suddenly alarmed by Kirsten waking up and screaming, clinging on to dear life, before the movie ends. The shock of the ending never provided any wiggle room for wondering whether there would be any sort of recompense for that action or whether there would be survivors after that attack.

Does “The Strangers: Chapter 1” Deliver Enough for a Trilogy?

The end of “The Strangers: Chapter 1” carries a “to be continued” text, clearly indicating the story isn’t done yet. This is further reinforced by Remy Harlin’s announcements that this relaunch will be a trilogy shot back to back. In essence, “The Strangers” is a long 4.5-hour movie, with the events of the first movie acting as an extended first act to a large overall narrative. Whether these relaunches clearly designed to cash in on an IP would work is highly debatable, considering how the new “Halloween” trilogy (directed by David Gordon Green) turned out. But if this movie retreads all the events of the first film, it would all be a buildup to something decidedly original, which is a more intriguing prospect.

There are already objects and characters introduced in this movie that would hint at backstories (masks hidden behind the closets, the citizens of the town very much giving off the vibe of extreme-conservativism, perhaps driving the masked assailants). It’s fascinating dangling ideas to tease, but the propensity of modern-day studio filmmaking supposes that teases of the future would be focused more rather than the actual film. Let’s hope the sequels actually stack up on all the kernels of ideas hinted at in this film.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) Movie Review:

Bryan Bertino’s original story treatment hinted very much at the strife of a couple caught at a crossroads. Kristen’s refusal to marry James adds strain and complexity to the relationship between two people who are very much in love with each other but are also lost in a mire of confusion. Their sojourn to James’ uncle’s cabin initially had been the destination to retire post-engagement, but after the refusal, it became their refuge towards each other.

The suddenness of the attack by the masked strangers in that house is terrifying because Bertino chose these already sensitized and emotionally vulnerable individuals to be ratcheted up by sheer paranoia. Thus, filmmaking utilizing a limited budget and a singular location focuses more on the atmosphere and creepiness of the entire endeavor. The result is a singularly nihilistic movie that, post-9/11, perfectly captures the dread experienced by American suburbia—the fear of being invaded at any moment for no rhyme or reason.

Read More: Knock at the Cabin (2023) Review – A lean thriller that doubles down as a cautionary climate change allegory

The relaunch takes the skeleton but also chooses to hint at backstories and lore and to develop the overall mythology of the franchise. However, the biggest misstep the movie takes is foregoing the nihilism and bleakness of the first film and choosing instead to go the traditional route. The happy couple is stranded in a remote location and is forced to defend themselves from masked home invaders. That is arguably interesting from a framework perspective, but to hint at a conservative angle and thus recontextualize the entire events of the movie as a twisted form of punishment by the town’s inhabitants robs it of mystique and unpredictability.

If one chooses to forego the comparative analysis, as a standalone horror movie, “The Strangers: Chapter 1” fails to impress. Harlin’s direction doesn’t allow for extended build-up, or jump scares effective enough to provide thrills. The characters themselves aren’t developed enough, even at a basic archetypal level, to consider whether their actions are inane simply because of plot contrivances or because of choices made by the character. The camera work and even the lighting only reinforce the remoteness of the overall film, which fails to conjure even a modicum of suspense. When every event feels like plot beat upon plot beat worked atop the other, with no emotional undercurrent flowing through, even moments of horror start to feel overly manufactured, and thus, the conviction necessary to give in to that world falls away.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) Movie Trailer

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
Cast of The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) Movie: Madelaine Petsch, Froy Gutierrez, Gabriel Basso, Ema Horvath, Richard Brake, Rachel Shenton
The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) Movie Genre: Horror, Thriller | Runtime: 1h 31 Mins
Where to watch The Strangers: Chapter 1

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