Written and Directed by: Guillermo Amoedo
Starring: Cristobal Tapia Montt, Lorenza Izzo, and Luis Gnecco
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Blood will tear us apart.
I donít know if you guys realized this, but apparently itís kind of a bummer to be a vampire. Sure, there are perks (the whole immortality thing is a pretty swell deal), but itís also a pretty lonely existence that leaves you eternally haunted by lost loved ones and the agony of regret. Who knew? In case you somehow actually werenít aware of this, Eli Roth has helped to produce another reminder in The Stranger, Guillermo Amoedoís low-key, somber, and gory take on the bloodsucker mythology.
Granted, Amoedoís riff is fairly far removed from classical depictions: set in a sleepy Canadian town, The Stranger centers on Martinís (Cristobol Tapia Montt) quest to reconnect with his wife, Ana (Lorenza Izzo). Much to his dismay, he quickly discovers that sheís been dead for over fifteen years. Delivering the disappointing news are teenaged boy Peter (Nicolas Duran) and his mother, Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni), both of whom acknowledge their familiarity with Ana but are somewhat cagey in their discussions about her. Unsatisfied, Martin lingers around town, concealing his ulterior motives related to the rare blood disease he shared with Ana; eventually, though, his encounter with a local, psychotic punk (Ariel Levy) and his crooked cop father (Luis Gnecco) forces him to bare his metaphorical fangs and form an unexpected bond with Peter and his mother.
The Stranger sure does carry itself with an air of pretense considering how rote and familiar it tends to be. Between its dark, perpetually underlit mise en scŤne and its assortment of moping, ponderous characters, it is unmistakably a Serious Vampire Movie, here to provide insight into the Human Condition with its relentlessly grim posturing and its frequent outbursts of violence. Slain, blood-soaked children, immolated teenagers, and maudlin suicide attempts make it clear: the world is an unrelentingly cruel place, full of corruption and wickedness. Because his condition is such a curse, Martin insists that he must eradicate anyone he even suspects is afflictedóincluding Peter himself because the life of a vampire sucks in more ways than one, you see.
But this is also the sort of vampire movie that seems deathly afraid of even uttering the word ďvampire.Ē Even Martinís name seems to confirm (if not shout) its reluctance to be a traditional vampire tale, an aim thatís perhaps laudable enough but also one thatís been thoroughly exhausted in the 40 years since Romero first adopted it. Simply put, weíre at the point where even these unconventional, grounded takes have to be goddamn exceptional to register. The Stranger cannot exactly boast that, as it just sort of plods along, revealing obvious information via piecemeal flashbacks, all of which reinforce just how fucking bleak everything is. If The Stranger were a song, itíd be a funeral dirge slowed down to half-speed and reduced to one note thatís hammered repeatedly. From start to finish, it remains stuck somewhere around second gear, terminally spinning its wheels towards a predictable, overwrought conclusion.
To borrow another tired phrase (albeit for a movie that feels very tired, to be fair), The Stranger lacks any sort of a pulse. Letís put it this way: huge chunks of it revolve around multiple characters that lay comatose in hospital beds. Its one wrinkle in the vampire formula (Martinís blood has restorative powers) isnít nearly inventive enough, especially since itís mostly diminished to a plot device. Rather than explore the potential shades of grey with the conceit, Amoedo instead wields it as a tool to position his stock caricatures into conflict: Gnecco and Levy practically devour the screen with their over-the-top turns, while Montt smolders and broods in this loop of unending vengeance and brutality. That The Stranger is a bummer is understandable; that itís a plodding bore is unforgivable, especially since it actually chickens out with an ending that rings false.
None of this is to say that Amoedo doesnít exhibit a whiff of promise. Dim lighting issues aside, his film is handsomely and slickly produced, and the performances are convincing enough. The Stranger doesnít want for atmosphere, eitheróeven though itís only set in Canada, itís marked by a vaguely apocalyptic, edge-of-hell desolation (so, yeah, Canada, pretty much). If thereís one thing Amoedo has absorbed from his collaborations with Roth, itís capturing the sensation of having been dropped into a remote corner of the Earth and forced to confront mankindís awful capacity for cruelty. Kudos are also due to Roth himself for providing an avenue for Uruguay native Amoedo to unleash his own specific vision. His propensity for bloodletting aside, Amoedoís film is unlike Rothís own efforts: itís much more moody and restrained than the likes of Hostel or The Green Inferno.
Viewers may notice some familiar faces from the latter (and Aftershock), which is also a welcome sight; The Stranger may seem exceedingly routine, but its cast is headlined by native Chileans, so it doesnít look all that familiar. Say what you want about Rothís sabbatical from directing, but at least itís yielded some diverse projects that have unearthed fresh voices and faces. Even though it hasnít always resulted in completely successful projects, thatís worth noting and celebratingóespecially if Amoedo goes on to deliver on the promise he occasionally flashes here.
Itís just a bit unfortunate that itís in the service of something weíve seen all too often. After the likes of Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do in the Shadows, itís especially difficult to work up enthusiasm for yet another vampire movie that insists how shitty it is to be a vampire (yes, I am very much a swearwolf rather than a werewolf).
The Stranger recently debuted on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory and IFC Midnight; the disc sports a behind-the-scenes featurette, a short film, theatrical trailers, and a photo gallery.
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