The Stranger is a claustrophobic horror thriller written and directed by Paul Gerrardand & Mike Clarke. It follows mother Amanda (Jennifer K Preston) and daughter Karli (Isabella Percival). After the senseless murder of her husband Greg (Jake Francis) the still traumatised Amanda has moved with her reluctant daughter to the reclusive countryside for a seachange. Taking ownership of hotel ‘The Bee Cottage’ they bring their problems with them, Amanda’s drinking and Karli’s late teen acting out. Their first guest Kyle (Damien Ashley) arrives mysteriously one night and almost instantly worsens the tensions between the two women. Lies, stealing and gaslighting are the least of their problems however, Kyle is certain something is coming for him. Is this another lie or has Kyle just dragged this mother and daughter into a darkness they’ll never escape?

I am enjoying how there have been a few psychological horror films recently set in what would generally be considered safe English countryside. It is something not explored much in the past just how scary such a picturesque locale can actually be. When alone in a house at night in the middle of nowhere, nobody is around to help you.

The high concept of The Stranger is an intriguing one. A film in two halves the first is primarily about this untrustworthy house guest and the second about whether there is something worse out there. The Stranger revels in the confusion and uncertainty it breeds in the audience. Definitely a movie which is worth watching more than once just to understand what exactly is happening throughout. 

With a brief seventy-nine minute runtime the film is heavy on mystery although scant of explanations. I enjoyed this as it puts us in the exact same shoes of Amanda & Karli unsure of what is real. They should be scared of Kyle and he clearly has a maliciousness about him but he is legitimately afraid of something outside.

The Stranger maintains an off-putting creepy atmosphere the entire runtime. With cinematography and a score to match I was on the edge of my seat despite the film’s limited budget. With minimal cast and few locations this could easily work as a stage play. 

Damien Ashley in particular gives an amazing performance as the charismatic although dangerous Kyle. Isabella Percival easily dominates over Jennifer K Preston in their family dynamic. For one, admittedly, as the better actress but it works also as a teen forced to grow up as her mother finds solace in a bottle.

There are some rough moments where the lower budget rears its ugly head. Foley at times can sound off with footsteps or the ‘glug glug glug’ of drinking coming off as distractingly artificial. There were also handful of other times where I found it difficult to understand what some characters were saying due to distorted audio. However even Christopher Nolan’s 200 million dollar blockbusters can be unintelligible to some viewers so your experience here may vary.

Besides those few instances I was impressed by the power of the film’s minimalist approach to effects. While the filmmakers prefer subtleties to all out blood and guts the special effects make up is top notch. Minor visual and audio tweaks here and there ironically made THIS Kyle afraid of the phantoms the movie’s Kyle is running from.

While I am interested to see what these filmmakers could do with more money this film still works. A very interesting and disturbing experience The Stranger delivers solid horror on limited budget. Not overstaying it’s welcome it makes a perfect addition to a Halloween marathon.