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'The Strangers: Chapter 1' review: No need for any further chapters

Adam Graham, The Detroit News on

Published in Entertainment News

Talk about stranger danger.

"The Strangers: Chapter 1" is a completely unnecessary remake slash reboot of 2008's genuinely unsettling home invasion horror thriller "The Strangers," and the first entry in a planned trilogy due for release this year.

Usually when an appetizer is this bad, you just get up and leave the restaurant, you don't wait around for the rest of the meal.

Maya (Madelaine Petsch) and Ryan (Froylan Gutierrez) are a bland couple from Chicago road tripping to Oregon for Maya's Portland job interview. They stop along the way to get a bite to eat in a small town, where the locals are needlessly hostile, as townies tend to be to Big City Folk in films like these.

The couple's car malfunctions under mysterious circumstances and the local yokel mechanic informs them he won't be able to fix it until the morning. There are no hotels in town but there is one of them "internet houses" — that would be an Airbnb — and no sooner do Maya and Ryan settle in do they get an aggressive knock on the door and a muffled voice asking ominously, "Is Tamra here?"

Fans of writer-director Bryan Bertino's "The Strangers" know the original line is "Is Tamra home," and this is what passes for innovation in this dead-end dud from director Renny Harlin. Once upon a time, Harlin was a big swinging Hollywood heavyweight, helming "Die Hard 2" and "Cliffhanger," but his résumé took a hit when he bankrupted a studio with 1995's disastrous "Cutthroat Island." In recent years he's been making movies in China and his native Finland.

 

"The Strangers: Chapter 1" won't do much to build back his reputation. The original was a tightly wound nail biter, full of looming dread, but this one runs on fumes: there's no tension or atmosphere, just recycled beats from the original, played like a cheap cover song.

The trio of masked psychos is back, even wearing the same cheap-o Halloween disguises: a burlap sack, a babydoll mask and a pinup girl mask. Horror villains need not play by the accepted rules of physics, but this is an especially fleet-footed bunch, able to completely disappear from the frame in milliseconds without being seen or making a sound.

Several sequences are so jarringly edited that it's unclear what is even transpiring on screen, and an extended sequence in the woods never establishes any sense of spatial relation, so you can't follow who is where, and when.

Not that any of it matters at all. The script by Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland fails to provide a reason to invest in the characters on either side of the stalking, and Harlin's direction is so phoned in that it's clear he couldn't be bothered to care.

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