Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Stranger – review

Director: Guillermo Amoedo

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

This is widely touted as an “Eli Roth presents” vehicle, which is all well and good but I am left – having watched the film – with the distinct impression that it is relying on that connection to sell itself. The film itself is flawed – and in one way that flaw is almost fatal.

This is a shame as the film itself has some level of interesting (if under explored) premise. It was shot, I understand, in Chile but is set in a small Canadian harbour town. The setting does actually suit the film.

Ana's grave
Things begin with a stranger (Cristobal Tapia Montt) arriving by boat. He goes to a specific address and asks for Ana Paole (Lorenza Izzo). The young man, Peter (Nicolás Durán), who answers the door says she doesn’t live there and directs the stranger to her grave. A few things here… The wooden marker is remarkably well preserved 16 years on. Ana is clearly named after the patient zero of vampirology – Arnold Paole (Petar Blagojevich died a year before Paole but it was Paole’s case that was more widely reported and really brought the idea of the vampire into the consciousness of Western Europe). The stranger is not named within the contemporary film but is credited as Martin.

Lorenza Izzo as Ana
The film goes back in time some 16 years. The stranger looks much the same with just a tidier beard. He comes home and the place is a mess, chicken carcasses and vessels that clearly have held blood. He is looking for his wife Ana (Lorenza Izzo, Hemlock Grove) but she is hiding in the locked bedroom. He breaks the door down and her face is covered in blood, by the bed is a woman, her throat torn but still alive. The stranger closes her eyes and then breaks her neck.

Luis Gnecco as De Luca
Back to the present and he is sat on a bench. A group of non-descript thugs lead by Caleb (Ariel Levy) approach him, demanding their bench. It ends with him being beaten. Peter is out spraying graffiti and sees the attack. He tells them they’ll kill the stranger and is told to move along, which he does as Caleb stabs the beaten man in the stomach. Peter rides off on his bike, sees a cop, Lt De Luca (Luis Gnecco), driving past and flags him down, telling him about the attack. The cop approaches gun out, the two henchmen leg it but Caleb stays where he is. Peter, watching from a vantage spot, sees De Luca help Caleb with the body – it turns out that Caleb is his son. They take the body to be buried, believing him dead (as he isn’t breathing), but a call from the police despatcher interrupts them and they cover the body to deal with later. Peter goes over, realises he is alive and takes him home.

Nicolás Durán as Peter
Now the main issue with the film. Peter is the closest thing we get to a likeable character and he is a meth-head and not really sympathetic. De Luca is a bent cop, his son is a psycho, Peter’s mother (Alessandra Guerzoni) fails to illicit any sympathy and the stranger is obnoxious. There is not a single likeable character or, actually, one who carries our interest. I don’t subscribe to the idea that films have to have likeable or heroic characters to work, but the characters must illicit some reaction that makes us want to watch them – even if it is only to thrill at their Machiavellian machinations or outright acts of evil. Indeed evil characters can carry a charm, as can anti-heroes. Nada in this and it is the film’s near fatal flaw.

facing the sun
In a further flashback we see the stranger try to kill himself and Ana. She lost control, and fed from a human, because she was pregnant and manages to escape him. It has taken 16 years for him to find her last location and the fact that he could go straight to the home of the nurse who took on their child (Peter) makes no sense – Ana voluntarily handed Peter over and then committed suicide by daylight. The fact that Peter has a graffiti tag that is the same as a mark the Stranger wears didn’t make any sense either – I suppose one could argue supernatural knowledge but nothing suggests Peter has such knowledge.

Cristobal Tapia Montt is the Stranger
The Stranger believes he is the last vampire (and, we assume, he has hunted any others down). His blood is extremely infectious, and someone getting it into an open wound will turn. With that (and the fact that he suggests vampires represent man’s doom) we might have had a viral basis for the vampires and the film might have been a simile for disease – it wasn’t really. There might have been interesting things done with the son of a vampire being addicted to drugs, there wasn’t. These vampires are definitely supernatural.

a victim
Ana was 47 when she died, by her grave, but is played by a twenty three year old. The stranger looks much the same age 16 years on and so we can guess they are long lived/immortal. Sunlight kills them and their blood has a miraculously fast healing factor. It can be used to heal without infecting is it is blessed first. There is the mysterious symbol that isn’t explained in any way. Beyond that we get very little lore. There is an indication that the vampires have superior strength, except for when the plot calls on them to be subdued or beaten.

another victim
The film is slowly paced, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it needs characters to anchor us into the pace – and as I say the characters are unsympathetic, annoying and irrelevant in turns. The film could also have done with some background to the vampirism as that might have stretched our interest out. As it stands I am left frustrated by a film that might have worked with some judicious changes. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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