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The Stranger | Review

Stranger Danger: Roth & Amoedo Unveil Derivative Inclinations

the-stranger-posterDirector Eli Roth continues his collaboration with the South American crew from Aftershock (2012), by producing writer Guillermo Amoedo’s sophomore directorial effort, The Stranger. The title is the filmmaker’s English language debut, previously helming a 2010 film Retorno. Unfortunately, the final result is about as mundane as its nebulous title would seem to indicate, slapped into a narrative as familiar as it is illogical. Still, technically speaking, it’s packaged better than some recent titles released from IFC Midnight (the 2013 Jeff Fahey starrer Beneath comes to mind). Those hoping for a dash of Roth’s predilection for intense splashes of violence may be disappointed, as Amodeo’s somber slow-burn never finds any such spark.

One dark and dreary evening, a stranger (Cristobal Tapia Montt) appears on the doorstep of a disheveled nurse, Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni). His name is Martin and he’s looking for a woman who used to live at the residence over a decade prior. Monica turns him away, but her angsty son Peter (Nicolas Duran) is drawn to the stranger, and he follows Martin into the night. A band of violent young men accost Martin, their ringleader happens to be the son of Lieutenant De Luca (Luis Gnecco), who arrives to help cover up their crime by stabbing Martin and dumping his body in a ditch. Peter intervenes, something the cop and his son aren’t too happy about. Meanwhile, we begin to learn about Martin via flashback and the mysterious woman he wishes to find. It seems her disappearance is wrapped up somehow with the people now living there, while we discover something alarmingly wrong with Martin.

The vague details we begin to learn about the titular character, via flashback and various hints in the dialogue, makes The Stranger feel like a tired copy of classic Stephen King tropes, recalling a hereditary illness wherein the females are ‘much stronger,’ like Firestarter. The vampiric affliction of Martin (a nod to Romero?) even recalls Claire Denis’ superior Trouble Every Day (2001) in the vocalization “there has to be a cure,” surfacing on more than one occasion. But none of this has any oomph, especially considering the logical comparisons.

A handful of clunky performances hampered by a mixture of strange accents makes Amoedo’s decision to set this in Canada seem unintentionally amusing. As the rather unlikeable interloper, Cristobal Tapia Montt at least manages to avoid a similar level of ineptitude as other cast members.

Newcomer Nicolas Duran is your general bullied rural teen stock character, slightly resembling a similar actor in Adam Wingard’s far superior The Guest (2014). As his mother, a striking and disheveled Alessandra Guerzoni is initially effective as a kooky mother, but flashback sequences as a nurse are laughable. Worse is fellow Chilean actor Luis Gnecco as the menacing antagonist, who might have given a better performance had he learned his lines phonetically. Inflection and tone were apparently not a concern. DoP Chechu Graf manages to make this all look appropriate, but it’s hard to focus on the film’s slight assets when bombarded with wooden dialogue trapped in a narrative refusing to ignite.

★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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