PLOT: When an enigmatic man suddenly shows up in a small coastal Canadian town looking for his wife, a young boy and his mother become embroiled in a web of supernatural violence.
REVIEW: With a collaborative blessing from onetime horror heavyweight Eli Roth, Uruguayan writer/director Guillermo Amoedo finally follows up his 2010 first feature RETORNO with his English language debut THE STRANGER, out in theaters and VOD this Friday (June 12th) courtesy of IFC Midnight. Alas, as insipid and generically uninspired as its title suggests, this is yet another case of a STRANGER being unworthy of welcome. With a morose pace and one-dimensional tone that is far too serious for its own good, what starts off intriguing enough ultimately sags into a slow, dull and sullen chore of a humorless bore. Gorgeously shot in Chile doubling for Canada however, I do admire the attempt made at subtly shrouding one horror subgenre under the guise of another. Unfortunately, the covert misdirection is overtly misdirected.
No time is wasted before meeting our titular stranger (played by Cristobal Tapia Montt), who appears in a small seaside Canadian community to lament the fresh burial of his wife Ana (Lorenza Izzo). After which, he goes a knocking on the door of a Peter (Nicolas Duran), a troubled 16-year old crack-smoking graff-artist who lives with his mother Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni). The stranger wants answers. Peter has none. He's too busy piping another rock in his living room in the middle of the day. With perfect teeth and skin, no less. Please! Soon a local cop and his bullying son also become entangled with the Stranger, who in turn we learn has some kind of superhuman blood-type. Able to heal in extremely short order, a spiral of violent encounters make The Stranger's blood a demanded commodity. Sadly, we end up with a predictably cyclical course of action that feels more repetitive than novel, even if the mystery of the Stranger's nature is more slowly unraveled.
But anyone even marginally versed in horror lore will eventually sniff out the Stranger's identity. Or his nature, however you want to parse it. Too many clues add up toward the end not to, but by then the sluggish tempo and weepy vibe is sure to sully any sense of enthrallment or earned surprise. I mean, the attempt to cloak one genre under the hood of another is quite cool, admirable really, but the execution is far tougher to manage. For anyone, let alone in a second language. In that sense, Amoeda has taken on a mighty tall ask, an unenviable one, and should perhaps be saluted for doing so. But there is absolutely no reason why, be it lost in translation or whatever, there isn't an ounce of humor in this entire movie. It's all so sincere, so precious, so not very fun.
Look, I'll party with a stranger if they know how to have a good time, but that just isn't the case with this one. There is no real danger, no excitement, no terror - nothing that makes a good time worthwhile. Instead we're imbued with a glum, somber energy all the way through, punctuated by our drearily lachrymose teen hero Peter. In fact, outside of a decent turn or two from Officer Harris (Aaron Burns) and his punkish son Caleb (Ariel Levy), there are long stretches of awkward acting among the principal performers that bog the entire experience down. I never for one second bought Peter as a pipe-hitting graff-bomber. A young A.C. Slater-Teen Wolf castoff maybe, but not a paint-spraying base-head. Too much of a stretch to be taken seriously, which works in complete counterpoint to the deathly serious tone the entire film reverberates.
As for the violence, there's a decent amount of gore in the back half of the film, but nothing so exorbitant or even alarming enough to alter the outcome. There aren't the wildly inventive death sequences we've come to know from an Eli Roth production, but then again, we haven't seen that sort in a good decade or so. Which brings us to a larger point. When, if ever, will Roth stop skating by on the his past glories and bankable namesake and deliver the kind of genre joints his early career so brazenly promised? Is he really content simply fostering younger talent, often South American, be it here or in the slightly better AFTERSHOCK or the upcoming KNOCK KNOCK (both also written by Amoeda), each starring his own wife Lorena Izzo? Has it really just become about making movies with friends? What gives? And will GREEN INFERNO, also co-penned by Amoeda, be just as bland and inconsequential? The fact it was made two years ago and has yet to come out is quite telling, no? If not, that Roth is actually exec-producing and starring in a remake of his own CABIN FEVER should speak volumes!
Back to the point. If I were you, this is one STRANGER I'd keep out of the house. While it's shot well and admirably attempts to approach a horror subgenre from a different angle, the film is too weighed down by its overly-austere tone, subpar acting and lack of fun. There's a tedium here, a torpidity that's just too damn overbearing to enjoy. A shame, because I believe Guillermo Almoeda is not without talent. He's clearly a gifted writer, which is why I'm more than excited to see how KNOCK KNOCK turns out, particularly with Roth at the helm and Keanu in front of the lens. But as an English language debut, THE STRANGER isn't likely to ingratiate new crowds.