Unless Eli Roth is directing (and with the recent release of The Green Inferno, the future is unsure), the words “Eli Roth Presents” can either be a selling point or just discouraging. With that said, he must see something in Uruguayan writer-director Guillermo Amoedo (who co-wrote the 2013 Chilean disaster-movie Aftershock, the upcoming The Green Inferno, and the not-yet-released Knock Knock with Roth), but The Stranger, his follow-up to 2010’s Retorno, delivers less than it promises. Far too morose and sullen for its own good, the film is just not as noteworthy as one might have hoped with Roth’s approval.
The titular “stranger” (played by Cristobal Tapia Montt) arrives in a seaside Canadian community (shot in Chile), searching for a woman named Ana (Lorenza Izzo, Roth’s wife and muse). He starts by knocking on the door of troubled, crack-smoking 16-year-old graffiti artist Peter (Nicolas Duran), who tells him that she doesn’t live there anymore because she died years ago. Soon the crestfallen stranger gets into deep with a group of punks, led by Caleb (Ariel Levy), who also happens to the son of crooked local cop Lieutenant De Luca (Luis Gnecco). Against the wishes of his mother Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni), Peter tries helping the stranger after a violent encounter covered up by De Luca, even though the strange man quickly heals from sharing the blood of a mythical being and also seeking blood from others.
Although one will have their inklings about what is going on here, The Stranger is mysterious, keeping plot details tight to the vest for close to a full hour. Low-key and capably shot, the film sets up enough interest as a vampire revenge tale and there’s something refreshing about how fundamental it is about its own mythology (read: there is barely any exposition). It’s too bad that Amoedo, the director, is better than Amoedo, the writer, with this undernourished script. The film explores very little about its characters and answers even less about the infection that plagues our characters. As a by-product of such emotional distance, it is hard to root for anyone. With English not being the Chilean cast’s first language, the actors acquit themselves okay. The lack of impressive performances can probably be due to the clunky writing more than the actors’ range themselves. A raw Alessandra Guerzoni, as Peter’s long-suffering single mother Monica, makes the most impression, especially once we learn of her connection to the stranger’s lost love Ana. On the other end of the spectrum, Luis Gnecco is so broad and despicably one-note that his hateful-to-the-core Lieutenant De Luca becomes mighty aggravating.
Humorlessness is not a deal-breaker, as some films can be bleakly effective, but The Stranger is grim and pared-down to a fault, so largely uneventful that it becomes a deadly serious slog to watch. And, what’s more, it’s more dull than creepy.
The Stranger is now available on Blu-ray via Scream Factory