THE STRANGER (2015)
Directed by Guillermo Amoedo
When an established director slaps their name to somebody else’s movie, via the vague term ‘presents’, it usually seems like a cynical ploy to make people part with money they normally wouldn’t on a dud. Riding hot the on the so-so heels of James Wan’s Demonic (reviewed here) is another so-so supernatural horror from fellow splat-pack alumni, turned presenter, Eli Roth. Actually heralding from Chilean director (and previous Roth collaborator) Guillermo Amoedo, The Stranger is a small scale horror with an apocalyptic world view.
Fittingly it begins under the cover of darkness. A sullen drifter named Martin (Montt) arrives in small-town America (actually Canada) to track down his former wife Ana (Izzo). Knocking on the door of their old home, he’s told by an equally morose teenage graffiti artist, Peter (Duran), that she is long since dead. Shortly after Martin kooks surly and feels suicidal. Lucky for him he gets set upon by local thug Caleb, who decides to try and stab him to death for sitting on a bench. Unfortunately, for him and us, Martin doesn’t die easily. Instead he wakes up with Peter and his mother (Guerzoni) doting over him. But before you can say ‘just let me die’ it’s revealed that the aforementioned thug has followed Peter, plus his should-be corpse, home. What follows is a vampire fused revenge romp.
If you hadn’t guessed from the above description, this the latest in a line of gloomy bloodsucker films. And gloomy it is! Here characters only take time away from their brooding to mope. The resultant dark tone is not a problem per se, particularly when it’s meant to be horror. Though the unrelenting humourlessness is, making for an often unintentionally funny ordeal where the drama is always more melo than mellow. Thus despite the simple story it becomes emotionally impenetrable. The characters are not relatable or rounded, and their relationships are not particularly interesting, meaning it’s hard to get invested in any of their journeys. Instead you’ll more often than not find The Stranger a little dull, since it’s slow pace is not met by a developing tension or personal stakes. The supernatural aspects are admittedly fairly promising (and pleasingly subvert tropes), yet go underdeveloped offering too little too late. They are then undermined by a final act, where a new threat is introduced, so generically constructed as to render the idiosyncrasies redundant. None of this is saved by a limp cast who, save for Duran, ultimately fail to do much with what austere roles they are given to work with. They mostly read the lines as if they are seeing them for the first time, causing a film preoccupied with death to feel largely lifeless.
It’s not completely comatose. At times the aesthetics are stirring, with an arresting atmosphere, gallons of realistic gore and some brilliant cinematography (Peter’s disorienting attack being a particular highlight). Amoedo evidently knows how to shoot and light a scene. Furthermore, to the script’s credit it’s genuinely refreshing to see a movie with an anti-hero that acts like one. Whilst Martin’s arc is a tired redemption one, we repeatedly see him get his hands both dirty and bloody. Good people suffer and bad things happen because of him. The mood of the film is also overwhelmingly nihilistic, and save for an unconvincing final five minutes it’s daring to see a movie where hope is so repeatedly eclipsed by despair. For example, the way that Martin’s miraculous powers are tainted by the loss of life that fuels them is met by corruption in the local law enforcement that make serious change seem impossible. For this alone, The Stranger is an interesting antidote to more moralising and/ or optimistic genre offerings. Yet without the necessary thematic depth it means the movie plays like a series of grim things happening with no beating heart to give them purpose or meaning. Consequently whilst some strangers may be friends you haven’t met, I’d recommend you say ‘no’ to this one.