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Stranger, The (2015)
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by Jay Seaver

"Could use being stranger in certain places."
3 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: "The Stranger" is the intersection of two trends in genre filmmaking that aren't bad in and of themselves, but can be kind of limiting: Sacrificing a sense of place to make your movie palatable for an English-speaking audience and taking genre concepts that are basically absurd very, very seriously. You can make a decent movie this way, as filmmaker Guillermo Amoedo and his team do, but it's tough to make a great one.

The stranger in question (Cristobal Tapia Montt) knocks on 16-year-old Peter's door one night, looking for someone who used to live there, only to be sent to the cemetery. That would be the end of things, especially since this guy runs afoul of three punks led by Caleb (Ariel Levy), who would have beaten him to death if Peter (Nicolas Duran) hadn't happened by on his bike. He flags down Lieutenant De Luca (Luis Gnecco), which seems like a good idea, but turns into a bigger mess than any of them - or Peter's mother Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni), a nurse - is prepared for.

That's actually a pretty strong noir-thriller setup, and if Amoedo and his team would have gone with that, it would likely still have been a movie with a lot of potential, especially as the route he chooses does involve never saying a certain word (it's the sort of movie that uses euphemisms like "contagious"). It puts the movie into a bit of a no-win situation at times - it's dependent on mythology that it won't directly acknowledge, either as commentary on the genre or to really dig into what weighs on the stranger. Going for that sort of restraint also means that the admittedly sort of melodramatic themes and parallels get buried fairly deep; they could have been a lot more involving closer to the surface.

They are there, though, and while Amoedo doesn't play it as operatic, it's lurking there, and while the story does seem kind of small for the fantastical bits that show up, there's a distinct ruthlessness to how things play out as a result. It's a lean, violent little movie where Peter's impulses to try and help are very much the exception to the rules, leading to an ongoing bloodbath that starts fairly early and never really lets up. It's fairly gruesome at times, going back for seconds in some cases, but the fairly grim seriousness of the movie means it's seldom played for laughs.

The cast all give performances of the set-jaw variety, and in most cases the all-Chilean group doesn't seem to be done a while lot of favors by shooting the movie in English (it's apparently set in some generic North American town, with the currency looking Canadian). It's not exactly distracting at first, although everybody seems to have their emotions blunted or come across as a bit hammy at various times. It gives Cristobal Tapia Montt a bit of stoic edge in the title role, though, while Nicolas Duran makes a good center and Luis Gnecco is coolly determined as the lieutenant.

It is a bit of an odd experience, with the accents and license plates and such placing the action in a not-real place with all the other background kept at arm's length. There's intensity, and not much to particularly fault in the story, so it's not a bad movie at all; it just could have been a bit more noteworthy if it were tied to something a little more concrete.

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originally posted: 09/24/14 17:33:31
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  DVD: 06-Oct-2015



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