A mysterious man comes to a small, quiet town, looking for someone by the name of ‘Ana’. Upon learning of her death, the man contemplates suicide, only to be attacked by three local thugs. This unprovoked and vicious attack attracts the attention of a young boy, who does what he can to help the stranger. But his interference starts off a terrifying chain of events, ultimately leading to a bloodbath on a catastrophic scale.
Whenever I agree to write a review for a horror movie, I like to go in with a clear mind of what to expect – that is to say, I don’t like to know anything about it before I watch it. I don’t read up on it online, nor do I read the blurb that come with it. I don’t want prior knowledge to cloud my judgement of what could otherwise be a pleasant viewing experience. Even if you had never heard of the work by the brilliant Eli Roth (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?), this film, on face value alone, is intriguing. If I had known anything about this film though, I highly doubt I would have enjoyed it as much as I did; for one very critical reason.
On the surface, The Stranger looks like your typical ‘man-comes-home-to-seek-revenge’ thriller, that we’ve all seen a thousand times over, and could probably be used as a device purely to have on in the background so your girlfriend or boyfriend would need you to cuddle them for protection while they watch it. There are dozens of movies I can think of that can be used for this – The Stranger, it turns out, is not one of them. For one thing – it’s not your typical horror film. The acting isn’t anything special, and neither is the central story, but still, you find yourself hooked from start to finish, because the film doesn’t follow the normal pattern of what you’d expect in this kind of film. The story opens with Martin (the stranger) arriving in the small town he’s clearly been to before looking for ‘Ana’. We have absolutely no idea who Ana is, nor do we have any idea why he’s looking for her. When he is told by Peter (the teenager who lives in the house Ana apparently used to live in), we are invited into Martin’s memory. To be honest – this memory almost destroys the film. It seemed like a plot device just to be introduced to Ana, and why she’s different from your typical ‘ex-wife’. It literally shows you there is something wrong with her – the almost-dead body on the floor and blood flowing from your mouth will do that to you. Instinctively, your mind goes to “Bloody hell, not another Vampire movie.” If I’d have thought I was about to watch another clichéd-to-hell film about the undead, I mightn’t have bothered. If you’re the kind of viewer, like myself, who has grown tired of watching vampires try and exist in everyday situations, you might have written this movie off immediately. Incidentally – you’d be wrong.
Not once, in almost an hour and a half of footage, does anyone use the ‘V’ word to describe what’s happening. Instead, on a clever twist on a centuries old story, the act of vampirism is told through the act of an infection that makes people addicted to human blood. Of course, writer Guillermo Amoedo has clearly taken the elements of what makes a vampire what it is (seemingly indestructible, burning in the sun, etc.), but he hasn’t tried to force it down our throats. The film focuses less on the infection this man suffers from, and more his turmoil about his past, and what happens to him when he arrives. It’s always in the back of your mind that this man is one of the undead, but because it’s not mentioned, your attention is drawn to the people he meets and their stories. One of the strongest aspects of this film is Amoedo’s talent in presenting the unexpected in such an expected setting. Each of the characters (including the main characters) are at risk of being killed or attacked in some way. This isn’t exactly uncommon when it comes to films of this nature, but this is the first film in a long time where I haven’t been completely sure who was going to survive.
There is an element to the film that does scream ‘Eli Roth’ on almost every level. The graphic ramifications of attacks on the characters throughout the film. There is a scene where we witness the aftermath of particularly nasty burning of one of the main characters that would make even the strongest-stomached person wince. If you are familiar with Roth’s earlier work (think ‘Hostel’), you will know he doesn’t shy away from squeamish scenes of gore; almost like it’s his signature. While I applaud the realness of what we’re seeing, it falls short with the actor’s reactions to what’s happening. I feel like I’m attacking the acting in this movie more than anything, but when we’re presented with such a strong series of scenes involving horrific injuries, you wouldn’t be blamed for wanting a little more from the people it’s happening to.
I have to make one thing clear – this movie is not about, nor does it contain vampires, despite the almost parallel likeness between them and the infected in the film. It’s not a bad movie in any sense of the word. It’s watchable, and you do become invested in the characters as intended. For a film that’s centred around, for use of a better word (I shudder to even say it) vampires, it doesn’t waste time explaining the backstory of what has happened to the characters. It is what it says it is – a stranger has come to town, and it focuses on the here and now, and what happens as a result of his arrival, and the simplicity of this story is what makes the movie what it is – an adrenaline fuelled, horror thriller with an unexpected turn of events, if not with a slightly predictable ending. For fans of Vampires, you will get the same kick you do out of getting watching films of a similar nature. For fans of straight up horror, like myself, you will enjoy the unique way the horror is presented in a familiar setting.
Director: Guillermo Amoedo
Starring: Cristobal Tapia Montt, Ariel Levy, Lorenza Izzo, Nicolás Durán
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Date: 16 November 2015.