Two tragedies combine with unforeseen consequences after Amanda retreats to the country to open an B&B following the death of her husband. With her unwilling daughter Karli in tow, misfortune finds them again as The Stranger comes to their door. Kyle has his own trauma to deal with that has followed him to the mother and her daughter, something that may be a lot more sinister than a burglary gone wrong… something that may be following in his wake, set to destroy the new life the family had hoped to make for themselves.

The Stranger is not a movie interested in dragging its feet. Three plot elements are thrown directly at the viewer, and then the true narrative begins as all threads are drawn to the beautiful British countryside. This approach feels a little disconnected at first, especially as the pace resets, but it all leads to a fulfilling pay off later. The narrative is driven by a spiraling ambiguity that helps the production feel bigger than a small cast in an isolated location, offering a layered mystery to follow. The familial dysfunction of Jennifer Preston and Isabella Percival’s Amanda and Karli give what should be the quieter moments more energy, but the real driving force here is Damien Ashley’s titular stranger. Kyle never feels safe to be around, right from his emotional opening scene that seeds what is set to come. With his true agenda hidden and the motives behind his strange actions never quite making sense until you see what it is that he’s really running from, trying to understand him is a compelling plot thread to follow.

Awesome sweeping shots of the English Lake District in winter greatly enhance the production value, where there’s a starkness in the bare branches that lends well to an underlying tone of malice. The score perfectly accentuates the setting, aptly pushing along the building pressure. While The Stranger is an independent movie that could have done a lot more with a better budget, what they do have to work with is used to the utmost. The scenery in daylight is cold and isolating, offering little in the way of safety before even worse follows after sundown. The scenes in the dark, where the bulk of the story takes place, are defined by artfully shot small islands of light the characters cling to in hope of safety. However, there are no scenes of relief for the characters, and every element of the film works in service of a mounting sense of dread. The unnerving atmosphere is relentless, and locks into an otherworldly ambience leading up to the intense resolution.

While a fun watch, The Stranger is not without flaws. Impressively made on a shoestring budget, and a great showcase of what the team could do if they got the resources they need, yet there’s a sense of lacking at times; they could have done more, and wanted to, if they had gotten the chance. There is also a point where the story pivots a little too fast to follow natural character growth, seemingly to keep the story moving. The film’s narrative takes twists and turns all the way from beginning to end, but cracks appear around the midpoint as it pushes past its limitations to get to the good stuff it has planned.

If you’re looking for a Brit horror that has more to offer than just imitating Hollywood trends, The Stranger has you covered. Its ambiguity can be a double edged sword at times, but it is confident in delivering something new that doesn’t hold the viewer’s hand. A compelling cast will drag you into a new hell that’s a cut above the usual jumpscare fare, as the finale unfolds you feel you’re being shown a glimpse of a powerful new IP with a lot more stories to tell. It is unfortunately a little disappointing that you don’t get more of that right now, yet it is offering a lot of value in what it accomplishes with a tiny budget.

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