10th Nov2015

‘The Stranger’ Review

by Mondo Squallido

Stars: Nicolás Durán, Cristobal Tapia Montt, Ariel Levy, Luis Ginecco, Lorenza Izzo, Alessandra Guerzoni | Written and Directed by Guillermo Amoedo

“Blood will tear us apart.”

the-stranger-uk-dvd

Eli Roth means many things to many people. Some see him as one of the saviours of modern horror. Some see him as a detriment to the genre. For me personally, I think he’s a fantastic director. Cabin Fever knew exactly what it was and had horrible things happening to purposefully unlikable characters. Hostel played a part in bringing shock and gore to the unprepared mainstream audience and Hostel 2 was in a lot of ways a love letter to Italian exploitation of the 70′s and 80′s. That being said, 2015 hasn’t been a good year for him in terms of directorial output. I was so excited for both The Green Inferno and Knock Knock, but found both films to be Roth at his worst. Why am I talking about Eli Roth? Well, this is one of those films that is ‘presented’ by him. He has put his name to some good projects such as Clown and 2001 Maniacs, but let’s not forget he also helped the likes of The Last Exorcism and The Sacrament get a bigger audience. Well, The Stranger is directed by a contributor and friend of Roth – Guillermo Amoedo – and is his first English language feature film. Has Roth found some new talent to showcase to English speaking audiences?

The life of young teen Peter (Nicolás Durán, Fuerzas Especiales) takes a strange turn after he saves the life of a mysterious stranger by the name of Martin (Cristobal Tapia Montt, Identity Theft) after he is beaten within an inch of his life by Caleb (Ariel Levy, Best Worst Friends); a local thug and left for dead by Caleb’s father (Luis Ginecco, No) who just happens to be the local lieutenant. Martin is in town claiming to be searching for his wife Ana (Lorenza Izzo, After Shock), but there maybe something much more sinister to his story than just reconnecting with loved ones or previous lovers. This seemingly quiet town and its residents may have secrets of their own. One thing is for certain; the streets will be painted blood red and there are a few nasty shocks in store.

Without giving too much away, this is more than just the classic tale of a stranger coming to town and causing carnage. There is much more to it than that and even though we are told enough information at the right times, it would be better for viewers to go in to this one as blind as possible because it sure surprised me in places. The Stranger may not be the most brilliantly written thing you will witness. In fact, you may scratch your head one or two times. What the film does have is steady pacing and a great atmosphere. There’s a real sense of ice cold dread throughout and although nothing like it in terms of theme or story, reminded me of the criminally overlooked Prisoners from 2013. There’s something about the visual style that reminded me of it. It’s often bleak, but unlike Prisoners, Chechu Graf’s (The Year of the Tick) cinematography gets a bit more kinetic at some points and works well when it does. Overall, this is an aesthetically pleasing film, but one aspect of the film that I think was lacking (and this is a minor point) was the score from Manuel Riveiro (Santos). I just felt that it went from generic indie horror buzz to dull too many times and really didn’t add anything. Those looking for bloody moments will be pleased because that aspect of the film is executed nicely. You are going to have to wait for those moments since it is a slow burner, but it’s a compromise I think most will happily take.

Possibly the weakest aspect overall was the acting from some of the cast members. I don’t want to be unfair to them or single people out because from my research, not everyone involved has English as their first language. There are some moments that just don’t sit right and it is a shame because it sometimes can give the viewer the impression overly hammy acting. I understand that going for the English speaking market gives you a wider reach, but I think it would have been an ultimately more powerful film if it was shot in Spanish. Please don’t confuse this observation as a major detraction because there is talent in front of the screen and there are people involved who have very promising careers ahead of them. I was very impressed with Cristobal Tapia Montt’s portrayal of the mysterious and sinister, yet ultimately fragile stranger and I will definitely be keeping a look out for some of his other work. There is one thing that does amuse me with casting choices and that is Lorenza Izzo who is of course, the wife of Eli Roth. She is a very solid actress and I enjoyed her performance. That being said, I hope Eli doesn’t go down the road of Rob Zombie and have his wife cast in any project he’s involved with. I had never really heard of her up until this year and I have already seen her in three different Eli Roth projects. It is so insignificant a point I know, but too much of a good thing and all that…

Overall, The Stranger isn’t a perfect film. There are many factors that do however make that as forgivable as possible. There is nothing awful and it’s not a horribly executed film by any means. There is great talent to be explored here both in front of and behind the camera. If you are looking for a relatively unique spin of a concept you’re familiar with and you have the patience to sit through a film that makes you think instead of completely goregasming; give this one a try. I had relatively low expectations going in to this one and I was very pleasantly surprised. Tension and atmosphere can be hard to find in modern horror and The Stranger delivers the goods in that regard. I know some roll their eyes when they see the likes of “Eli Roth Presents….” in trailers or on posters, but no matter what his motivations or involvement in these projects, at least directors who produce or lend their names to films like this are actively giving some genuinely talented people (most of the time) a platform so I think you owe it to the genre you love to check this one out.

The Stranger is available now on VOD (iTunes, etc.). The film will be available on DVD through Koch Media from November 16th.

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