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The Strangers: Chapter One – A Repeat of Its Predecessors

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From the genre of Movies That Never Needed To Be A Franchise, we bring you the third film in The Strangers extended universe: The Strangers: Chapter One.

The original 2008 film, The Strangers, was a sleeper hit with its small budget of $9 million, and weighed against massive box office success. It was a movie I personally found half-satisfying. For the front end, the movie was packed with a tense atmosphere and a perpetual sense of dread as the villains surrounded our protagonist couple and eventually began outright tormenting them. 

Unfortunately, it ran out of gas far too soon and was reduced to having the lovebirds make foolish mistake after foolish mistake to keep the scares coming. It felt like any sensible couple could have survived the night by just not doing whatever these two thought to do.

Image from The Strangers: Chapter One. Photo: Lionsgate Films

With its success, a follow up was ordered, and several years later, The Strangers: Prey At Night was released. It was another financial success, though it earned little more than a third of what the original grossed. To be fair, it also only cost about half as much. And as a story, it was a travesty. Whereas its predecessor still mostly worked despite some foolhardy decisions by the heroes, Prey At Night manifested “scares” by making the family at the core of the strangers’ terror abject idiots. They made awful decisions from the very start, and anything they could do to keep themselves the victims, they rushed headlong into.

Conversely, the strangers themselves were basically magical in the sequel. They always knew where the heroes were despite having a much larger map to deal with, and they moved about undetected like teleporting ghosts. Combining these elements left me with a movie that just made me more and more upset at what I was seeing.

Somehow, The Strangers has returned with a prequel movie. After the last two-plus hours of Strangers fare, my patience for this was low, but I also have AMC A-List, so if I’m not going to the movies whenever I can, what am I even doing with my life? So I grounded my expectations, ordered a ticket (thereby being one of the fools likely ensuring a fourth entry to this money-maker of a franchise), and headed to my nearby AMC to see if this series could start to learn any lessons. 

TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS

+ As opposed to the abysmal Prey At Night and the second half of the original The Strangers: Chapter One feels solidly more natural. Which is to say, the characters only make a handful of mind-numbingly bad decisions to keep the plot rolling along, and there film is not littered with such choices. 

I admittedly found myself a couple of times during the movie thinking the protagonists are doing everything they realistically could do. Compared to how I felt for the last movie-and-a-half of this series, this was honestly refreshing.

Image from The Strangers: Chapter One. Photo: Lionsgate Films

+ Look, I don’t usually do this, and I don’t want to do this. But the problem with some movies is having to find the Ups where you can, so I’ll do it this time: Madelaine Petsch is an absolute knockout. She’s ridiculously cute, and she makes watching Chapter One easier than it could have been otherwise. It makes me feel like I should go back and watch Riverdale now. Is this what I was missing?

In addition to her beauty, she does do a solid job in the role her, though she is tasked with little more than being a scream queen and victim. It would be interesting to see what she could do as a more self-actualized and brave heroine, but for what we get, she carries the movie well.

– Sometimes when you have a good idea for a sixty minute movie, you should stick to making a sixty minute movie. However, that is all but considered a taboo idea in the world of filmmaking, so solid sixty minute outings get stretched out to the more “feature length” ninety minute mark. For an example of this, look no further than The Strangers: Chapter One (or the Nicholas Cage movie, Pig, for that matter).

Image from The Strangers: Chapter One. Photo: Lionsgate Films

For an example of what should have been cut: during the second act of the movie, Ryan is just sent away on a fetch quest to retrieve his inhaler, and the film effectively goes into stalling mode for about fifteen minutes. This leaves Maya home alone for some repetitive scares even though we know the plot isn’t going to move forward until Ryan returns.

What’s worse is that Ryan leaves the house to grab his inhaler before immediately dropping and losing it in the woods when he returns! So the film sent him on a quest to grab something just to then have him lose it. And if I recall correctly, his asthma never plays a role in the third act regardless, so what’s up with that, movie?

Image from The Strangers: Chapter One. Photo: Lionsgate Films

– While the characters make better decisions than their cinematic predecessors, that does not absolve Chapter One from the sin of cheap scares. When Ryan and Maya arrive in Venus, Oregon, they are greeted by a cast of creepy, unwelcoming characters. The movie is clearly trying to put you at unease right away, but why? These characters aren’t our villains. We’re just crafting creepiness out of thin air where it isn’t needed.

From there, a Strangers franchise tradition of characters having the absolute worst peripheral vision in movie history continues. The titular baddies often stand essentially right next to one of our heroes, but they don’t see or even sense it. That’s just cheating to give us scary visuals.

OVERALL

The Strangers: Chapter One is not a particularly good movie, but in an ebbing sea of lowered expectations, I actually managed to have a good time with it. I am admittedly happy the flick did not reduce our protagonists to little more than the walking embodiment of stupidity, but how sad is it when that is a positive? 

Possibly its biggest sin that I have not yet mentioned is how it repeats so much of the first two movies. There are entire scenes lifted out of the previous two entries and repurposed here. It’s a bit lazy. But much of this script has that same malaise all over the place, as if the creators of this franchise only know a few tricks and can’t help repeating them.

★★ out of 5

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