That was my main reaction to watching The Stranger, a film from Chile that, for some reason, is set in Canada. (There’s absolutely nothing about the film that brings to mind Canada. The film was obviously shot in South America and almost all of the actors are Chilean. And, just in case you forget, they’ve all been badly dubbed.) The Stranger is full of atmosphere and it does attempt to do something new with the vampire genre so I guess we should give it some credit for that…
Can’t do it.
Listen, I love horror movies. I think that some of the most interesting films being made today are coming out of the South American film scene. And, in the past, I’ve even defended Eli Roth, who is credited as being one of the producers on this film. But I’m sorry — The Stranger is an incredibly boring and unpleasant film.
And yes, I fully realize that the best horror films are meant to be nightmarish and, as a result, somewhat unpleasant to watch. However, there’s a difference between the stylized violence of a good giallo and the relentless sadism of The Stranger. There’s no real point or style to the overbearing violence and gore in The Stranger and, as a result, it gets pretty boring after just a few minutes.
Of course, another huge difference between good horror and The Stranger is that The Stranger takes itself way too seriously. Again to return to the Italian horror comparison, the best giallo films always featured quirky characters, clever dialogue, and plot twists that took us by surprise. They were exercises in pure style that celebrated cinematic excess. The Stranger is so somber and grim and serious that it all becomes a bit tedious to deal with.
Also, an innocent black cat is brutally murdered about 30 minutes into a film. Then, towards the end of the film a dog is similarly attacked and left to die in the desert. And you really don’t get the feeling that there was any reason for these scenes, beyond the fact that the director needed to keep up with his onscreen death quota.. If you’re going to portray an innocent animal being killed by your hero, at least make sure it’s absolutely necessary to the plot. Otherwise, it just comes across as pointless sadism.
Anyway, the movie itself is about a stranger (Christobal Tapia Montt), who shows up in what we’re told in a small Canadian town. He’s looking for his runaway wife, who he discovers has subsequently died. The man has secrets of his own, of course. He hates the sunlight. He apparently cannot be killed by ordinary methods. His blood can heal others but it also tends to transform them into being blood-thirsty monsters. Yes, the man is obviously a vampire but the film never comes out and admits that.
There’s all sorts of small town intrigue going on but I’m not going to talk about it because it was tedious enough just trying to watch it. Ultimately, the whole film is basically just a collection of scenes of people threatening the stranger, the stranger looking somber, and then people threatening each other. None of the actors are particularly memorable and very few of them speak in their own voices. One gets the feeling that the Chilean cast could not sound properly Canadian and so a bunch of American actors were hired to overdub everyone’s dialogue. (I say American because I heard many regional American accents but not a single Canadian one. All of this again makes you wonder why this film was set in Canada as opposed to some place like maybe Chile.) The dubbing is atrocious, with the voices rarely matching either the facial expressions or the body language of the original actors.
This movie is a total mess. Sorry, Eli. I still think that the Hostel films have a lot more to say about America’s place in the world than most people are willing to admit but ultimately, The Stranger is a disappointment.