Navigating prequels can be a tricky business venture. On one hand, you’re dealing with already-established characters, while placing them in new situations. Their audience awareness was high enough that a production company decided to invest more money into telling their tales. But they can’t be more of the same, or else the box office results will suffer. And if their on-screen journeys make a 180 from their original appearance, previous fans will surely complain. This is the plight of the franchise film. Enter, The Strangers: Chapter 1.

I’ve definitely got a love-hate relationship with prequels. Whenever sequel stories might box in a character’s future earnings potential, filmmakers great and small turn back the hands of time for a new type of story: An earlier one, which is generally used as an origins story. As excited as I was for more Star Wars films at the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, the prequel trilogy just wasn’t what I was searching for. The same can be said of The Strangers.

Chapter 1 is the beginning of a new trilogy of terror. Filmed consecutively by director Renny Harlin, much like how Peter Jackson filmed The Lord of the Rings to save money overall, we get more tales from the hooded, silent-but-deadly killers. So, have you ever wondered how The Strangers actually became The Strangers?

That’s the takeaway I had after originally watching the film’s trailer. But what transpires on the screen is something far different.

While taking a road trip, a young couple experiences car problems in a quaint, small town. Forced to stay the night, they choose an Airbnb at, you guessed it, a remote log cabin in the woods. Thinking back on the past couple of films, do these stories always take place at vacation homes? I honestly couldn’t remember.

Just when the couple starts to get cozy, there’s a random knock on the front door. A female voice asks for Tamara, who’s obviously not there. Conveniently, our heroes are caught off guard, distracted by the front porch light that’s been unscrewed and the lack of details from their visitor. And just like the previous two movies, she’s used as the decoy, while a different masked intruder silently slinks inside the house, preparing to terrorize their next victims…

From the publicity materials that I’ve read, apparently this film (along with its two upcoming sequels) takes place within the same shared universe as the first two Strangers films. Taken separately, as standalone stories, I enjoyed each one differently. But when you start to piece them all together, in a wayward attempt to form some sort of continuity, a pattern emerges.

You’ve got three people. Each one wears masks. Each one seems to be psychotic (or at least has mental issues), deriving joy from torturing random, innocent bystanders. A court of law would probably render each one guilty of being a killer in some capacity. And the entire time, they are basically silent (with the exception of a few screenplay expositions).

These people are never seen and barely heard. They could be anyone, found anywhere. Apparently, they’re stealthy, too. And they could actually be different people under the mask with each story. Is this their appeal?

I must admit, after watching the first movie in 2008, I probably enjoyed watching Liv Tyler lose her shit more than I should have. I’m not a big fan of the actress, so naturally I was cheering on the masked bad guys. But I always seem to confuse it with The Crazies, which was released around the same time. I don’t remember much of the storyline, except it took place at a vacation home and was somehow inspired by real-life events. That information is bonus when dealing with an all-new horror film.

If it ain’t broke… The Strangers: Prey at Night takes place at a secluded trailer park, where vacationers are confronted by the three masked characters and the same formula takes place in Chapter 1, as Dollface, Pin-Up Girl and Man in the Mask bring the pain. And while enjoyable, it’s basically the same story told three separate times.

Offering no mercy and providing no motive, their killing sprees seem to sprout out of pure boredom, which returns to my motives for watching Chapter 1. The official trailer implies that this will be the backstory for our mysterious characters, which previously haven’t provided any sort of details about themselves at all in their two previous adventures. This was going to be the film that would explain how the three people actually became The Strangers.

Except none of that actually transpired on the big screen.

Chapter 1 is simply a reintroduction of the characters to the current pop-culture world. This couple isn’t even The Strangers’ first kill (that presumed victim is briefly shown, but never fully detailed). This is simply another slasher film. And it features Renny Harlin’s return to Hollywood.

Long known as the big-budget director of Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight, I had no clue Harlin has been working semi-regularly for decades now, although he hasn’t been very bankable with his big-screen ventures. It’s a good thing The Strangers franchise has been filmed with such small budgets, because they’ve gained a cult-classic following throughout the years, while never quite breaking the bank at movie theaters.

I enjoyed watching Chapter 1 and will continue watching future entries of the franchise, I just don’t want more of the same story, rinse and repeat, or else the term “prequel trilogy” will forever be used in shame universally, not simply for the Star Wars Universe.