Eli Roth has always been a divisive filmmaker, but even his fans (and, full disclosure, I count myself among them) have to acknowledge that the man has gone downhill since hooking up with Chilean filmmakers Guillermo Amoedo and Nicolas Lopez. With them he made Aftershock (working as actor, producer and co-writer with Amoedo) and his directorial comeback The Green Inferno — neither of which were terrible, but were still substandard compared to earlier efforts like Hostel and Cabin Fever. Now with The Stranger, Amoedo’s debut in the director’s chair, Roth takes the plunge into the deep end of the mediocre abyss.
One can’t emphasize enough how bad The Stranger actually is. Nothing about this film works. Nothing. On every single level, beyond maybe that of basic technical competence, this movie is an abject failure. And if your basic selling point is that you made a film that looks competent, than you are in serious, serious trouble.
The Stranger is, at its heart, a character-driven horror film. It’s slow, there’s not a lot of action, the movie is about people and monsters interacting with each other and doing fucked up things to each as the vice starts to tighten around all of them. The film follows a mysterious, morose man who arrives in a small town and becomes involved with a moody teen, a corrupt cop, and the cop’s vicious punk son. The man is mourning the loss of his lover. There is something not right about him… and that’s about it.
The thing is, character-driven stories need to have interesting characters and a compelling story to work. Otherwise what you have made is a slog. And The Stranger is a slog. The story is thin and uninteresting and can’t support the weight of a feature-length film. The characters are underdeveloped, one-dimensional, and stiffly acted by a cast of actors who are hapless to bring any spark to their roles (to be fair, one could blame the script over the cast, who have nothing to work with.) The titular stranger is simply just gloomy and dour, the teen a passive nothing, the cop and punk flat caricatures. Amoedo mistakes a glacial pace for moody “melancholy”, but his lackluster direction and the film’s uneventful nature results in a plodding, patience-testing endurance trial rather than a worthy entertainment.
To make a long story short, The Stranger is boring. Maybe the single most boring, dull, enervating film I have seen at any the Fantastic Fests I have yet attended. Mark my words: when it makes its way to the real world, avoid The Stranger at all costs.
The Stranger: 0 stars out of 5