Firstly, I’d just like to start off by thanking Half Sun Entertainment and Co-Writer/Co-Director, Mike Clarke for allowing me early access to an online screener of his and Paul Gerrard’s (also Co-Writer/Co-Director) debut feature length Horror/Thriller, “The Stranger”. The Stranger centers around recently widowed, Amanda (played by Jennifer K. Preston) and teenage daughter, Karli (Isabella Percival) who following a family tragedy, takeover ownership of a small bed and breakfast in the English countryside. Their lives are further thrown into chaos following the arrival of a mysterious stranger (Damien Ashley) who is harboring a secret. The film also stars Jake Francis, Lindy Pieri and Tony Moran.
On its surface, The Stranger presents as a fairly by the numbers 80-minute slice of home invasion horror. However, there’s a nuanced layer of mystery infused here, that at the very least breathes an aura of freshness into this low-budget venture even if the end result doesn’t quite come together completely coherently. One of the first things that stood out in Clarke and Gerrard’s film was the impressive production values on display, that and their attention to detail in getting the fundamentals executed proficiently. The first two sequences are tightly shot and effectively backlit. One takes place inside a car stopped in an industrial area and serves to introduce the audience to Kyle (Ashley), and the subsequent unfolds inside a bus depot. DP, Neil Oseman’s abundance of experience behind the camera working in the short medium well and truly shows. Clearly exhibiting great knowledge of the craft and how to get maximum bang for buck on screen. The shot choices are great, the coverage is ample, and his combination of crisp wides and gentle panning and moments of subtle zooming result in a really polished looking film. The daytime sequences are especially slick looking.
I’ve often said that when it comes to low-budget independent filmmaking, good quality audio is often few and far between – I’m relieved to say such isn’t the case with The Stranger. It’s an evenly mixed master with a nice clean dialogue track. Music from “The High Priest” adds plenty of atmosphere to proceedings as well. In terms of Clarke’s screenplay, I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers. What I will say, is that it’s decently paced and it opens with immediate intrigue followed by one of the films most violent moments. The special fx makeup team also deserve plaudits for the crafting of some really cool prosthetics that are on show when the key “mystery being” reveals himself to our protagonists. The others (all dressed in black) that fill out the frame during those moments look just as eerie too.
By and large, the technical aspects of The Stranger are honorable but there are a few internal shots lacking a little clarity due to the shadows. The acting is quite serviceable from all involved although perhaps a little inconsistent throughout the scenes that required more intensity or emotion. The assailants are ultimately shrouded in a bit too much mystery and little is given in the way of exposition regarding exactly who or what they are. I couldn’t make heads or tails of quick cuts that transition to what appears to be tentacles and what, if any, relevance they actually had. Said plot device felt inspired by something you might find on the Creepypasta website. The Stranger just seemed to be lacking a little something that I can’t quite put my finger on. Some more in the way of suspense wouldn’t have gone astray either.
For a sophomore effort at a feature-length film, Clarke and Gerrard’s “The Stranger” is more than competent and sufficiently entertaining. It boasts some fantastic cinematography, an atmospheric score, and solid performances from a relatively inexperienced cast. It is a little scarce on the action front and fails to capitalize on fully reaching great heights in the tension department. I think the third act could’ve benefited from further exposition to give clarity to the haunting. With that said, fans of a good independent Horror/Thriller will still want to check this one out. You can view the trailer at the link below!
The Stranger – 6.5/10