Stranger, The (2015)
Starring Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy, Cristobal Tapia Montt, Aaron Burns
Directed by Guillermo Amoedo
Continuing his working relationship with Chilean filmmakers Guillermo Amoedo and Nicolás López, Eli Roth lends his name to The Stranger as a producer, a name that undoubtedly lends a little credibility to a plague-themed drama that may have otherwise fallen off the horror radar. Releasing on VOD this Friday, The Stranger will arrive a few months before the trio’s previous collaboration The Green Inferno finally touches down after a long delay and a couple of weeks before the UK gets a chance to see Keanu Reeves in Knock Knock – an update of Death Game from the late seventies. Amoedo and López also collaborated with Roth on the horror world’s low budget version of San Andreas, Aftershock, back in 2012. While each film on its own (including The Stranger) certainly has its flaws, it’s worth pointing out that this team has made it their mission to do something completely different each time out of the gate: a disaster film, a tale of cannibalism, a brutal black comedy and, with The Stranger, a somber melodrama.
Warning a troubled teen (Ariel Levy) and his mother (Alessandra Guerzoni) to stay away from his blood after being attacked, the aptly named Martin (Cristobal Montt) is sick, desperate and suicidal from the opening scene. Tortured over the supposed death of his beloved Ana (Lorenza Izzo), Martin is determined to uncover what happened to her before the beginnings of a vampiric plague take root among the residents of a quiet, Canadian town. Meanwhile, a police lieutenant (Luis Gnecco) tries to uncover the secrets found in Martin’s blood in order to save his juvenile delinquent son. As The Stranger moves on, telling a story about desperate families and individual resurrection, it’s clear the only way to reach a satisfying conclusion for everyone involved is through a cleansing of fire and ash.
Through scenes where some characters drench themselves in gasoline and others intentionally burn people alive (all told with convincing makeup effects), the element of fire becomes a weapon and a threat that follows Martin almost as if the flames are as much of a curse as his sickness has become. Peace can come from a gasoline can or, as it’s revealed, through direct sunlight but Martin has to put out the damage he’s caused before he can purify himself.
Some of the basic tenants of vampirism appear like blood healing and death by sunlight but there’s never a sense of wonder accompanying what would normally be considered miraculous in the medical world. The plague drama Guillermo Amoedo and company decide to tell instead of going for a more adventurous, more romanticized riff on the classic vampire is filled with so much desperation that it can’t help but be depressing even with some uplifting themes about sacrifice and family bonds.
Lacking a large number of characters and operating on such a small scale makes the threat of the plague seem hollow and some over-the-top performances cross over into soap opera territory making key character moments miss the mark. When viewed as a whole, the diversity of horror projects this collaboration has produced (projects that may eventually be referred to as “Eli Roth’s The Chilean Years”) show a passion for every corner of the genre. However, after happily acknowledging that these films all have their memorable moments, there still hasn’t been a truly solid effort from the title card to closing credits.
The Stranger is available June 12 on VOD.