Not to be confused with the Albert Camus novel of the same name — although it could be argued that there is a peppering of existentialism on display at times here amongst the nihilism — debuting director Guillermo Amodoe’s Chilean effort The Stranger offers up a fair share of moody brooding.
The titular character, also known as Martin (Cristobal Tapia Montt), shambles into a small town — supposedly somewhere in North America — seeking his estranged wife Ana (Lorenza Izzo). A graffiti artist teenager named Peter (Nicolas Duran) who lives at the home tells him that no one resides there by that name. Martin trudges off and is soon attacked by a trio of hooligans led by Caleb (Ariel Levy). When they threaten to kill Martin, he asks what’s stopping them. Peter happens upon the attack and Caleb tells him to keep moving or he’ll be next.
Peter finds local police lieutenant DeLuca (Luis Gnecco), who rushes to the scene of the crime. DeLuca happens to be Caleb’s father, and the two conspire to bury Martin later that night. Peter witnesses this act, as well, and after the father and son go their separate ways, he finds that Martin is somehow actually still alive. Peter takes the stranger home, much to the dismay of his mother, nurse Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni). Martin has flashbacks to some dark times that he and his wife shared, and Caleb and his buddies come to Peter’s house to find out what happened to Martin’s body. Things get uglier from there as we learn that Martin has a contagious disease transmitted through blood.
The Stranger is a dark (literally and figuratively; the lighting is dim and the film’s outlook is bleak), nihilistic slog about a suicidal masochist who can’t easily be killed (although proceedings at the climax suggest that he always had at least one relatively easy option). He wants no personal connection or help from anyone except to find out what happened to Ana. Peter tries to befriend him for some reason but Martin repeatedly rebuffs his attempts. Viewers are given no one to root for except arguably Peter, to some small degree. Everyone lives in corruption, fear, under threats, or to be someone else’s doormat.
There’s plenty of horror on display, to be sure, with savage attacks of both the real-world and supernatural kind, ripped throats and pools of blood, and burnt flesh. Children and animals aren’t safe in this movie, either. Not every horror film needs humor in it, though a little levity can help with pacing and viewers’ emotional release in some cases, but without enough emotional investment in at least one character to hope that they survive, there isn’t much reason to stick with the story. Also, when we have been shown time and again that a certain character is a villain, do we really need them to commit a random murderous act to hammer the point home just before the climax?
As if I wasn’t already distanced enough by the underlit cinematography and dismal tone, I felt a weird disconnect with the movie because of what looks like dubbing. The cast is mouthing the words in English but I’m fairly certain that most or all of the voices are dubbed. That’s not usually a problem for me, having grown up on Toho kaiju movies and Euro fright flick imports. I could be wrong about this; I couldn’t find any evidence to support or go against my theory. Assuming that I’m correct, sometimes the voice acting matches well with the on-screen acting, and at other times it just heightens how bad some of the acting is. Montt never has to stretch out much past his ever-gloomy mood, Gnecco usually has a scowl and a bitter or angry expression, and Duran is almost always in the somber range, as well. Their performances are more impressive than the other leads, though. Levy’s portrayal of Caleb would get his villain ranked no higher than Punk #3 in most other films, and Guerzoni was grating at times. We can probably blame Amoedo’s script for not giving these actors much room to stretch, and if I’m right about the dubbing, that factors into things, too. Amoedo, by the way, cowrote The Green Inferno and Knock Knock, both directed by Eli Roth, who lent his name to this film with an “Eli Roth Presents” before the title.
If you are in the mood for a cheerless, nihilistic horror movie, The Stranger might be just what you’re looking for. If, however, you don’t feel like wallowing in 93 minutes worth of what I’ve described, you’ll likely want to try another film.
The Stranger: (2 / 5)
(The Stranger screened at South Korea’s 19th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival [BiFan] in July 2015.)