27th Oct2020

Frightfest 2020: ‘Stranger’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Anastasiya Yevtushenko, Darya Tregubova, Maria Bruni, Anna Sukhomlyn, Sergey Kalantay | Written and Directed by Dmitriy Tomashpolskiy

Written and directed by Dmitriy Tomashpolskiy (Promenade a Paris), Stranger is a mysterious science fiction thriller from Ukraine. Six swimmers go missing in the middle of a synchronised swimming performance and a woman appears to have dissolved into thin air whilst in a bathtub. An investigator, with no unsolved cases, attempts to look into these odd disappearances in an attempt to figure out what the hell is going on.

Stranger is a mind-bender of a film, that much is certain, and the curious plot and surreal feel to the film go into creating something very unique. This is the kind of movie that doesn’t follow a linear line and give you all the answers to those questions you have. It doesn’t have a start, middle or end that will quell your thirst for knowledge, yet it brings this obscure and beautiful visual poetry to the screen, an homage and credit to those who have created surrealism in film before. The performances are very good, here, too. There’s a coldness to Inspector Gluhovsk that works with the whole tone of the film. There are moments of moving poetry, of sexuality, of mystery. Heck, the film even has a nod to The Shape of Water to be found, which I got a little kick out of.

The water that is front and centre thematically is an echo to how the film flows. There’s this seamless yet strange fluidity to every scene, with dialogue and performances having a similarly other-worldly response to the world this takes part in. It is, in a manner of speaking, a film that feels like it’s located in the rippling mirror image of a river. Not quite the world we live in, but a watery reflection of it. The cinematography from Serhii Smychok is delightful, and Tomapolskiy’s willingness to delve into odd depths, to wink at the viewer, and to unapologetically create a pancake pile of intrigue and questions without giving you all the constructed and wrapped up responses is very cool.

It’s artistic, it’s smart and it feels almost dreamlike in many ways. The closing moments are fantastic and there’s some genuine beauty to be found here, amidst moments that feel haunting or alien. Whether comparisons are made to Luis Buinel, Guillermo Del Toro, David Lynch or Jan Svankmajer or not, the fact remains that Stranger is its own unearthly creature, an outsider from another place altogether. It certainly made me curious to see what Tomapolskiy does next, because while some of the subjects of Stranger find themselves dissolving into thin-air, the writer and director of this curious movie certainly hasn’t. He’s only become more clear, and it will be interesting to see what shore he washes up on next.

**** 4/5

Stranger screened on Thursday October 22nd as part of this months Frightfest Digital Edition.


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