08th Oct2020

Grimmfest 2020: ‘Stray’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Sevastian Bugaev, Yan Runov, Evgeniy Tsyganov | Written and Directed by Olga Gorodetskaya

A feature film debut from writer and director Olga Gorodetskaya, based on a story written by Anna Starobinets (Port), Stray is a Russian horror movie that follows a couple who, after losing their young son, adopt a child from an orphanage that turns out to be less than “normal”.

The film, also called Tvar and Evil Boy, is not totally unlike some of the other “evil child” films we’ve seen over the years, and possesses (pun not intended) many of those traits and storyline routes that many of those films take. It still does, however, have it’s own soul and ideas, making it interesting and engaging enough from the start to get you invested and keep you watching. The young boy, once the couple take him home, begins immediately to transform into the child that they’d lost. Polina (Elena Lyadova) and Igor (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) are pretty damn confused and obviously concerned, all the while seeing their new child become violent and unruly. The intensity keeps getting upped as the movie goes on, with the child becoming more and more of a threat to this family and what they hold dear, both physically and in memory.

Stray looks beautiful, with much of the reason for that being the wonderful cinematography from Ilya Ovsenev (Better Than Us, Inadequate People). It’s a stunning film on a visual level. I was also impressed with the performances here, especially from the lead characters Polina and Igor, who show that realm of desperation and heaviness that really sells their story. A lot can be said for the young Sevastian Bugaev, also, who plays the part of Stray/Vanya. Only the third film of this kid, who was only eight years old when this was made. Stray falters mostly, perhaps, in its predictability. It does feel like it treads much of the same path that others in the genre have before it, without taking some extra creative chances. Still, I did enjoy the film, regardless of those negatives. It had the intensity and intrigue necessary for a story like this, and characters you want to watch.

A film that may go undeservedly ignored due to it being similar, in some senses, to other “evil kid” flicks, Stray has some new ideas in its brain, and some top class performances going on. An entertaining and slick Russian horror film, I had a good time with this, and recommend it. It’s not earth shatteringly great, but it is certainly worth watching.

*** 3/5

Stray screened as part of this years virtual Grimmfest festival on Ocotber 7th 2020.


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