Netflix Roulette: The Stranger

I am sorry if I spoiled you (or at least raised your expectations) with two consecutive posts last week. At this point though, I’m back to my one-post-a-week speed… at least for the foreseeable future (we’ll see how the summer goes). With my one opportunity to watch a movie this week I decided to play another round of Netflix Roulette. After nearly 72-hours I was finally able to finish up The Stranger and all-in-all I’d say I broke even… which, isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering some of the schlock I’ve had to watch. There are equal parts things to like and things to hate about this movie.

The Stranger is a Chilean horror movie produced by Eli Roth (quick side note, for those of you who hate Eli Roth (and you have good reason too (although, I’m a bit more ambivalent about him)), this is nothing like an Eli Roth film… second quick side note, although this is a Chilean horror movie it is in English, though this is actually more of a weakness (more on this later)). Okay, so back to the plot… the weird thing is that although this is a small movie (more on this) it is difficult to summarize in a sentence or two… but, I’ll give it a try. The titular stranger walks into a seaside town looking for a woman who, in a flashback, is revealed to be his wife. After being unsuccessful in his quest the stranger sits down in a park to wallow. Unfortunately, some young punks decided to attack him (apparently, he was sitting on their bench(?)). After the vicious beating (and stabbing (did I forget to mention the stabbing?)) a teenager finds the stranger, brings him back to his mother’s house, and nurses him back to health. Vampire fun ensues. That’s right, it’s a vampire movie… and I tend to hate vampire movies… okay, hate may be a strong word… bored by… bored by, is a better choice. I am generally of the opinion that vampire movies may be the most played out of all horror movie sub-genres. I am happy to report though, that while this movie didn’t add anything especially new to this sub-genre, it did execute the main tenets in a thoughtful way.

As I mentioned above, there’s a lot to like about this movie and a lot to hate… what’s interesting is the stuff to hate doesn’t appear major at first, but unfortunately, by the time you get to the end of the movie it has accumulated to point of equaling the weight of the good. So, let’s flip a coin and decided whether to start with the good or the bad… coin flipped… and we’re starting with the good (nothing like ending on a bad note). The first thing I will say about this movie is that there is definitely something here… unfortunately, the stuff I’m going to write about in a bit masks it to the point of near obscurity. However, if you dig deep enough (or, more appropriately, if you put on your blinders) you might be able to find a nugget of a good horror movie. The movie takes it time… so much so that the climax of film is only twenty minutes… but it works. This is a small film… and I don’t mean that as an insult. It is dealing with big ideas (like vampirism) but really it focuses on the relationships between various parents and various children. I truly enjoyed that aspect of the film (even if it was a bit ham-handed (more on that in a bit)). The film moves along at a slow, but satisfying pace, until its inevitable end. It focuses on three relationships amongst five people and how decisions surrounding love and loss can narrow one’s choices. Okay… I need to back off that last sentence a bit… while it is technically accurate, I may be giving the film more credit than it deserves. I truly believe that’s what the filmmaker (writer/director Guillermo Amoedo) was going for… however, the delivery was so clunky that it’s hard to know for sure or even enjoy the ride. The other thing that I appreciated about the film is that it did not treat its audience like morons. For example, there is never really a big-reveal moment… the viewer just gradually begins to understand that the stranger is a vampire (until it is so obvious one may feel a bit stupid for not realizing it sooner (and by one, I don’t mean me… seriously… I absolutely, knew it from the start and wasn’t surprised halfway through… nope, that totally didn’t happen… I am super smart). The V-word is never uttered, and no one ever goes over the “rules”. The filmmaker (accurately) assumes that we all have an inherent understanding of vampires and don’t need it explained to us. Finally, I was generally impressed with the choices the movie makes. While, at times, it takes the easy way out, more often than not, it makes the harder, more interesting, decision.

I’m glad the coin landed on heads (heads indicated good… not sure where that ingrained bias came from), because I feel like if I ended with the last paragraph you would all be rushing out to see this movie. Let me be absolutely clear: do not rush out and see this movie. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t watch this movie… just that if you do, approach it slowly… with trepidation… like you would if you were approaching a dog that could be friendly or could have rabies. I get what I’m trying to say is lower your expectations… drastically. Hopefully, this section of my write-up will help you to do so. Right from the jump there was something about this movie that felt off to me… something about the production quality made it feel like a made-for-tv-movie… the video quality wasn’t great, the music felt tacked on, and there was something off about the audio. After struggling with this for nearly fifteen minutes, I finally figured out that it was dubbed. At first I assumed that it was shot in Spanish and the Netflix version was dubbed in English… However, that’s not the case. If you watch the actors’ mouths they are clearly speaking English… in addition, only some of the actors are dubbed. I’m guessing that many of the actors had thicker accents than the filmmaker and/or studio were comfortable with and ended up hiring voice-over actors. The problem is that no matter how great the dubbing is it’s still off (just watch the original Star Wars and pay close attention to nearly all of the imperial officers (sorry if I just ruined Star Wars for you)). Add to this the fact that the lines that are written are extremely clunky, there is a ton of melodrama, and several bad actors (I’m looking at you deputy) and you will find yourself constantly falling out of the movie (the fake beard on the stranger doesn’t help either). This is obviously a problem, but especially compounded because of the subtle nature of certain aspects of the film. There are also some other minor issues with the film like the fact that the makeshift graveyard doesn’t make sense or the fact that the stranger’s fear surrounding his blood changes from the opening attack to subsequent injuries.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day I’d rather be watching Let the Right One In or even Lost Boys (though, that may be because the younger antagonist looks like Kiefer Sutherland (hair and all) which put me in a Lost Boys mood), which is a shame, since this movie is so close to being good.

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