Directed by Dmitriy Tomashpolskiy.

Starring Anastasiya Yevtushenko, Darya Tregubova, Maria Bruni.

Horror, Ukraine, 86 minutes.


Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2020 Digital Edition 2


Opening a horror film with a quote from H.P. Lovecraft (“I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men.”) may be considered par for the course for a horror film these days, but to then follow it up with a nicely choregraphed exhibition of synchronised swimming that is integral to the films plot is definitely an original and distinctive move. Director Dmitriy Tomashpolskiy claimed in the films introduction that this was a very personal film. Considering that STRANGER contains such elements as creepy dolls, sea creatures, the Necronomicon and the repercussions of sneezing at certain times such a statement may come across as tongue in cheek. By its end somehow, STRANGER managed to ring true in its own bizarre yet heartfelt manner.


Investigating the sudden disappearance of the aforementioned synchronised swimmers, Inspector Gluhovsky is reminded of a similar investigation from five years before at a mysterious spa located alongside a vast aeration plant. Flashing back and forth, and somehow sideways, Gluhovsky, a visual counterpoint to the numerous brunettes who occupy the spa with her platinum blonde hair, immediately encounters bizarre coincidences that soon pile up with their similarities. Alongside this Zezuliya, the lone male character in the entire film, hovers around the edges of the blurred narrative enquiring if anyone has reported his own disappearance yet. The fact that no one has and the increasing scorn he encounters making him feel no better soon edges its way into the main slippery thread of the film.


Aided by a sleek, visual style complementing its surreal and enigmatic story STRANGER has a distinctive vibe that at times is reminiscent of Peter Strickland, a director who also has an eye for female led surreal exercises in genre. Straight faced and deadpan, particularly when it comes to its dialogue which involves nuclear physics, quotes from a mystical tome about sneezing and commentary on over used horror tropes it delights in piling one bizarre incident upon the previous bizarre incident. All of this could soon become exhausting leading one to wonder what the point of it all is.


However, the Russian Doll like structure of its story soon reveals how its themes of identity, loneliness and manipulation come together to deliver a surprisingly heartfelt climax. What certain hallucinatory scenes exactly mean in and on their own will lead to various interpretations that will no doubt inspire debate among viewers. The theories that the film itself presents involve numerology, one that will no doubt delight Terry Pratchett fans and at points deflates its own mysteries with characters telling other characters that what they think they are thinking is actually not what they are thinking.

The film confuses yet beguiles although its refusal in giving any answers to what you are seeing may enrage or bore a number of viewers. For those who are able to give themselves over to its seductive, bravura style and multiple mysteries it could gather itself a sizable cult following. What is immediately apparent however to anyone who watches it is the honest nature of the emotional coda solidified with the directors onscreen text tribute. Mixing the surreal with the openly emotional it will be a surprise if any other film, not only during this festival but this year, manages to mix the two seemingly disparate elements together so effectively.


Iain MacLeod.


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