‘The Stranger’ is a film about cause and ghastly effect. As the film opens, we are introduced to the mysterious Martin (Cristobal Tapia Montt), who is searching for his lost love, Ana. Although he doesn’t find her, he runs afoul of a group of teenagers who nearly kill him. This encounter will set in motion a night of dark action that will change many lives forever.
The Stranger is intense, almost more drama than horror. It is the cruelty of its characters and Martin’s dark secret that push it into horror. We don’t learn much about the Canadian hamlet in which the film takes place, but at first blush, it looks idyllic and serene. Director Guillermo Amoedo peels back this deceiving layer of decency to reveal a dark underbelly of corruption, violence, and anarchy. Officer Harris (Aaron Burns) is the film’s “villain”, who is the father of one of the youths who nearly murders Martin. Throughout the film, Harris commits unspeakable acts of cruelty and mayhem, all in the name of his son. Unlike other horror characters, Harris has an understandable motive that is made clear early in the film. Martin, the stranger, also seems to be loathsome and callous, but through a series of flashbacks this aspect of his personality is fleshed out as well.
The horror and the action in ‘The Stranger’ is more visceral than ghoulish. You will feel a punch in the gut here more than a pang of terror. There is a complex story that is slowly unveiled that makes ‘The Stranger‘ interesting and intriguing rather than “fun” to watch. It also means that Amoedo’s film moves at a measured pace, meting out revelations and horrifying character moments slowly. For some, this won’t be attractive, but I found it to be engaging and interesting. I do wish there had been more gore and violence, but that isn’t really what the film is about.
Most of the performances are top notch. Cristobal Tapia Montt is able to convey a deep well of sadness, balanced with a barely concealed intensity that threatens to explode at any moment. Although he doesn’t get a lot to do in the modern part of the storyline, he has emotionally compelling scenes in the flashbacks. Aaron Burns as Officer Harris walks a tightrope of outright villainy and misunderstood empathy. For the most part, we are meant to hate him, and Harris makes this easy. He also manages to elicit the right amount of understanding of his actions. Although there were a few moments where his performance faltered, it works more often than not. The other performances in the film are strong if not forgettable.
‘The Stranger‘ is another film produced by Eli Roth. There are several cast members from other Roth productions, so it is clear he had some hand in the film. For the most part though, ‘The Stranger‘ doesn’t feel like anything we would see from him. While I would prefer Roth direct more films, his name does carry a certain weight. I’m not sure if ‘The Stranger‘ would be a film worth seeking out if it weren’t for the allure of Roth’s endorsement, but it’s interesting enough that it held my attention throughout. The resolution is absorbing enough, if not a little underwhelming. The revelation of the film’s central mystery was a bit of a letdown, but it is handled effectively. Ultimately, ‘The Stranger‘ is strong enough to see you through to the final credits, but probably too weak to leave any lasting impact.
The Stranger [Review]
While on the fringe of the horror genre, ‘The Stranger‘ is compelling and gripping. It’s absolutely worth your time.