Visually Confident Stranger Too Emotionally Detached
A stranger (Cristobal Tapia Montt) has come to a sleepy Canadian town looking for his long-lost wife Ana (Lorenza Izzo). Learning she died 17 years ago from the teenager, Peter (Nicolás Durán), living at her last known address, he heads to the local cemetery to stew in his sorrow. Cutthroat tough guy Caleb (Ariel Levy) doesn’t take kindly to the presence of this outsider, one thing leading to another and next thing everyone knows the guy is laying on the ground unconscious with a knife protruding from his abdomen.
Peter saw it all, the goodhearted teen reporting the incident to the first policeman he manages to run across. Problem is, Officer Harris (Aaron Burns) is Caleb’s father, and instead of taking the homicidal psychopath in he instead helps him cover up the crime. But the stranger isn’t dead, and with Peter’s help, and much to the consternation of his skittish and protective mother Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni), a registered nurse, he manages to escape from the pair’s clutches, the ensuing bloodbath a thing not one of them, save this nameless newcomer, is prepared to handle.
I’m honestly not entirely sure what to make of The Stranger. It’s well made, writer/director Guillermo Amoedo (Aftershock), cinematographer Chechu Graf and editor Diego Macho (Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus) assembling a series of haunting and unsettling images that are as captivating as they are horrific. But the movie itself never gels, never coalesces, each of the narrative’s pieces coming together in a rather rudimentary fashion keeping emotional investment on my part to an oddly detached minimum. More than that, the central discoveries aren’t inventive or revelatory, genre fans sure to pick up on what is going on in regards to the stranger and his peculiar bloodlust rather quickly.
The central twist is that Caleb is the real monster, not our secretive wanderer, his all-encompassing evil the thing everyone in town should be truly scared of. Thing is, Amoedo keeps things too nondescript as it pertains to he and his father, too ephemeral, the young man an abhorrent excuse for a human being right from the start. He’s such an evil presence that it’s difficult to understand how he has been able to operate as he has for so long even with a high-ranking policeman covering his tracks. More than, he’s just not all that interesting, and with so much of the story revolving around how he is going to be dealt with this is a problem the filmmakers are never able to overcome.
Then there is the relationship between the stranger and Peter. Thanks to a conveniently placed pair of flashbacks, both of which are admittedly alluring (in large part thanks to Izzo’s surreal, oddly beautiful commitment to each scene and her importance to them), it’s pretty easy to figure out why the former is in town. This is a mystery that isn’t particularly mysterious, and the fact the movie spends so much time trying to conceal the answers to Peter’s questions when they’re obvious to everyone other than him is a hugely trying annoyance.
I do like the way The Stranger moves, am moderately fascinated by how it breathes, while the lengths it goes to in order to toy with traditional supernatural mythologies is intriguing. Elements of genre favorites ranging from We Are What We Are, to Near Dark, to Cronos, to Halloween, to a number of others run through this in spades, Amoedo finding a way to utilize traditional tropes in a fashion that gives off the scent of originality even if in the end they are anything but.
All of which makes me even angrier that I didn’t enjoy his feature more than I did. The characters just aren’t interesting enough, the travails they’re attempting to overcome never involving me like I kept hoping they would. The Stranger looks great and has some outstanding individual moments, it just doesn’t have enough of them to make heading to the theater to give the film a look worthwhile. It’s surprisingly toothless, and considering the subject matter that’s about as damning a complaint as anything I could have come up with to say.
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)