Fighting Demons: Our Review of ‘The Dark Stranger’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 14, 2016
Fighting Demons: Our Review of ‘The Dark Stranger’

Cinema exists for those who cant defend themselves, for difficult antiheroes and anti-heroines and the characters and the audience who come to support them. Chris Trebilcock’s The Dark Stranger is about Leah Garrison (Katie Findlay) a twenty-something troubled artsy type who doesn’t shower and still lives with her family so I already really didn’t like her (Full disclosure: I am a film critic who lives with my mom). Keep in mind that she doesn’t shower, we also see her cook meals twice and that’s just disgusting.

The film’s first scenes frustratingly piles one horror trope on top of another – drawings that I see on reddit, a soundtrack without any hint of subtlety. There are characters like her father Brendan (Enrico Colantoni), her brother Toby (Alex Ozerov), her doctor Anne Parsons (Jennifer Dale), and her love interest Mark (Mark O’Brien) who treat the Leah like a child. We also get overwrought flashbacks depicting her relationship with her alcoholic, suicidal, trouble artist mother Ellen (Emma Campbell). These characters also only have two different outfits each which adds to a cartoony aesthetic which is a favourite among men who like explaining things to me. The monster who haunts her, the titular Dark Stranger, is someone we don’t see in full form in the beginning. He pops out of surfaces, and I like the special effects’ vintage feel to that but those scares are dwarfed by the face of an art dealer named Randall Toth (Stephen McHattie), which is what the film should have used instead.DarkStranger-D3-161

Leah gets inspiration to write a graphic novel, which is is the blood orange way of saying comic book, which she draws partly with her blood, which metaphor. The graphic novel is a horror/fantasy about a singer named Alyra but beware, this means that there will be more metaphors. A character in the graphic novel, a witch named Calla, is based on Ellen and she experimented with ‘potions.’ Just say spirits or alcohol, that’s all they drank during the Steampunk era. She drank the potions because water would have given her cholera. Fantasy can be good but is often used as a tacky shroud when reality can be equally and strangely horrific.

Things do start to turn around. Leah, again, is a troubled artist and the initial depiction of a character with depression feels so monotonous. But she smiles when she gets a creative breakthrough, a moment for which I waited, and I decided that half an hour is ample time to wait to show this complexity. And I started liking the film much more when the Leah’s back story start intertwining with the Dark Stranger’s motivations. This is when I could empathize with both Leah and the Stranger but the film effectively makes us side with Leah. It’s obvious that Leah is a substitute for Trebilcock and his struggles, the struggles of every other person who have found the call of dedicate their lives to the arts. He created this film to perhaps exorcise his demons, which is something that most people are not brave enough to do. Flaws aside, I respect any work of art that hints of the artists’ enemies and fights to vanquish them.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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