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The Strangers: Chapter 1 Review: We're doing a requel

The Strangers: Chapter 1 Review: We’re doing a requel

Not exactly a prequel, definitely not a remake, welcome to the beginning of the extended universe of The Strangers: Chapter 1

The popularity of ‘requels’ has given new life to historic franchises like Scream and Rocky/Creed, and at first glance, you would think that The Strangers is an unlikely candidate. A straightforward home invasion horror, any expansion or revisit runs a high risk of tainting the original and sanitising the mystery that made it such great fun in the first place.

But with high risk comes high reward, and The Strangers: Chapter 1 is surprisingly rewarding viewing. Billed as the first in a new trilogy, director Renny Harlin has taken on the challenge of transforming a 90-minute high-concept horror into an entire universe.

When Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and Ryan’s (Froy Gutierrez) car bizarrely breaks down in a backwater town, there just so happens to be a mechanic on hand who can get the car fixed… overnight.

Without a nearby hotel to shelter in, the surprisingly helpful (and oddly intense) locals recommend a remote Airbnb that just so happens to be free. However, what starts off as a tranquil stay in a private lodge turns into a terrifying stay in a creepy cabin in the woods. Things soon start going bump in the night and the young couple are tormented by masked strangers intent on waging a psychological war of home invasion terror.

There’s a beautiful simplicity to the plot of The Strangers: Chapter 1, riding on the back of the popularity of the 2008 original starring Liv Tyler. It smartly utilises all the tropes of a good horror but does so with an extra layer of intelligence that elevates it beyond its shlocky potential.

By disregarding all the original characters (except the titular Strangers) and casting relative newcomers Petsch and Gutierrez, Harlin opens up the idea that this could happen to anyone.

Gutierrez’s Ryan harbours a neutered machismo, carrying the physical presence of a hero but lacking the capability to handle the struggles of the real world. Petsch’s Maya, too, is not your typical final girl. Victimised but resiliently determined, she consistently makes smart decisions, leaving you twice as traumatised by the inevitability of the reign of terror that befalls the couple.

Harlin has been able to craft a palpable sense of unease from the outset and uses the intelligence of the film’s protagonists to explain away anything that seems unduly odd, breaking tension without ever letting it drop. The iconic appearance of the Strangers when they make their entrance is no less unnerving than it was 15 years ago, and Harlin doesn’t fall down the trap of over-exposing their back story in typical prequel fashion, so the mystique of unknowable killers remains intact.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 breathes new life into a world that many of us had forgotten about. Intense and surprising in its near-perfect execution of what a Friday-night 90-minute horror should be, it signs off on a promise of birthing a new classic franchise, leaving you eagerly anticipating turning the page to Chapter 2.

The Strangers: Chapter One is out in Cinemas on 17th May