The Strangers: Chapter 1 director promises to reveal big secret from the original

The Strangers: Chapter 1 director promises to reveal big secret from the original

We speak to The Strangers: Chapter 1 director Renny Harlin and star Madelaine Petsch about the new horror movie trilogy.

the strangers chapter 1

Back in 2008, The Strangers rocked cinemagoers with its simple premise and imposing dread. The story followed a couple (played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman) whose holiday is upended (to say the least!) when their rented home is disrupted by three masked intruders.

That movie really impacted director, Renny Harlin (who’s no stranger to building suspense, being the director of Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea): “It was so pure. It was so real. It was senseless, like life. I love that movie and I love the opportunity to explore it further and look more deeply.”

Indeed, Harlin is having his own take on The Strangers story this year with what he calls a “four-and-a-half-hour epic into the reasons behind how something like that can happen and what happens to the victims ultimately…”

That four-and-a-half-hour epic takes the shape of a new horror trilogy, starting with The Strangers: Chapter 1, which yet again follows a young couple (this time played by Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez) who find themselves the victims of three masked strangers when they rent a remote cabin for the night.

And though the premise is the same, Harlin emphasises that Chapter 1 is “not a remake, and it’s not a sequel, and it’s not a prequel”. 

“It is a movie on its own that takes the premise of the original movie, and then develops an epic journey from that,” he confirms. “I think the audience can expect the same kind of realism as in the original film, and a really in-depth character study of both the perpetrator and the victim, and a promise the movies will go in directions that the audience will never guess. 

“We will answer some of the questions that were left unanswered in the original film. Not all of those questions by any means. We don’t want to tie a neat little bow on the package, but I can reveal that we will learn who Tamara is.”

Maya and Ryan (Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez) have rented the wrong house on the wrong night…

For those who remember the original The Strangers, the masked killers asked, “Is Tamara home?”. However, the identity of Tamara was never revealed in the original movie.

Someone we know for certain who will be as excited as we are to finally find out who Tamara is, is Madelaine Petsch (of Riverdale fame) – to say she is a fan of the original movie is a bit of an understatement… “The Strangers 2008 film is one of my favourite films of all time! I’ve seen that, probably conservatively, 30-ish times,” she laughs. “There are actually clips of me online, long before I even knew they were making a Strangers with Lionsgate!

“I saw it when it came out. I also had an obsession when I was a kid, when my parents would finally leave me home alone to watch it by myself, which obviously shows you how there are a couple of screws loose up there! Haha! But I really enjoyed it back in the day. A lot of movies don’t scare me. That movie really scared me and I like being scared.”

Petsch plays Maya, one-half of the couple who unwittingly rent the wrong house on that fateful night, who she describes as “an incredibly resilient individual. She’s tenacious, she’s passionate. She’s a lover. She’s also really whip-smart and incredibly resourceful. And that’s really fun to see. Typically in films like this (I think it’s kind of skewing now), but especially older films like this, you kind of feel like the man usually takes the lead in resourcefulness and stuff and I do really love that you see Maya’s strengths through her architecture in certain moments in the film, like when she goes under the house. It’s nice to see such a well rounded female character. It was really fun to play that.”

You won’t find Maya (Madelaine Petsch) making any silly mistakes in Chapter 1. But does that mean she’s still safe?

Indeed, you won’t find Maya cowering in the corner waiting for the intruders to find her or running up the stairs and finding herself trapped… “That’s literally the one thing when I came in… I wanted to make sure no one’s screaming at their screens shouting ‘why is she doing that?’ Because it drives me insane when I watch horror films and people make decisions that no one else would ever make!”

Harlin also wanted to make sure he created an apt horror movie for modern audiences, which can surprise moviegoers who may feel they’ve seen it all by now: “It’s all about misleads,” he nods. “And sometimes it means that you take the audience exactly where they expect to get and sometimes it’s about twisting things around so that they think they know and it doesn’t follow the pattern. 

“I compare it to telling a good joke. With a good joke, you have a setup and you develop the story, and then you have the punch line. And hopefully you end up surprising the audience so that you get a good laugh. And in my case, you get a good scream!”

Speaking of screams, the original movie invoked a real sense of dread to creep out its audiences. So what scares can we expect with Chapter 1? “Nothing supernatural,” Harlin confirms. “Everything is very reality based. And the whole experience in all the three movies has to feel like something that could happen to any of us, anytime, anywhere. One big rule we have throughout the making of these movies is it’s not that bigger is better, it’s that real, is better. Rooted deeply in our real everyday lives that are then horribly violated by this.”

“There’s a couple of jumpscares but I think our scares are more like bone chilling,” adds Petsch. “That’s what the original 2008 version did so well. That stayed with you after you watched it. And I believe and hope that this will have the same effect.”

With scares like that promised in the movie, it’s no surprise that both Petsch and Harlin’s real hope for Chapter 1 is that it… well… scares the hell out of audiences.

“I want people to go home at night and be scared to sleep alone!” laughs Petsch.

“We go to the cinema to feel something. We go to laugh or cry or be scared or fall in love – that’s what it’s all about,” adds Harlin. “I hope audiences feel that it was worth coming to the cinema to have this collective experience – where you get to scream and jump, and then you laugh a little bit because you’re a little embarrassed that you reacted that strongly.

“I hope that I can really scare the crap out of everybody with this film!”

The Strangers: Chapter 1 will be released in UK cinemas on 17th May 2024.

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