Day of the Stranger (2019) | Directed by Thomas Lee Rutter
Written by Thomas Lee Rutter | Starring Luana Velis, Johannes Benecke, Jan Bluthardt
I’m going to be honest here; I don’t really know what happened in this movie. I mean I think I do, but I’m not entirely sure. So, apologies in advance to the filmmakers who obviously put so much work into this psychedelic (often referred to as “acid” or what I’ve dubbed “twistern”) western filmed primarily in Wales.
A bounty hunter is hired to collect a…demon gunslinger? That might be the gist of the plot, but there may be more. Story points are integrated into the plot just as they are in most movies, other than the great Godfrey Reggio’s experimental eye candy, sure. But do they add to the proceedings or just further confuse the world that’s been created? For example, there’s a sadistic boss that has such a quirky delivery of the nonstop dialogue; is what he’s saying important? Who knows, there’s so much talking it’s actually disorienting! Should we care what he’s machine gun mumbling? Lord only knows.
And therein lies the basic rub…or blazing six-gun, tumbleweed strewn conundrum with this film, if you will. It’s an incredible effort, no doubt. What they’ve accomplished with so little is downright impressive. Does it add up to an excellent film? Hmm…
So what went wrong from keeping this from being a compelling movie in the same vein as, say, John Hillcoat’s The Proposition or Jodorowosky’s masterpiece of the acid Western sub-genre, El Topo?
Like those great films and most classics, some of the most powerful moments are in stillness and silence. I can practically hear you yelling at me, “That’s called a dramatic pause, dumb-ass!” And while my tiny little feelings are hurt, you’re right. Talented directors, cinematographers and editors can paint with no action, dialogue or movement. Think of all of your favorite scenes in your top ten flicks and I’ll bet most or all of them have memorable times where nothing is actually occurring. Maybe a character poses after a confrontation or as they are about to go headlong into one. Or maybe they stare wistfully into the rain or a single tear rolls slowly down their cheek. Even in slasher films, the great ones, there are scenes where nothing is happening and the tension builds. That’s great film-making, peeps. For realz.
Alright, so Day of the Stranger noticeably lacks these. Gotcha. But what about the nonstop dialogue, scene editing with rapid fire cut after cut and cut…? Was it really that bad? C’mon, it couldn’t possibly have been enough to ruin the entire thing. Truthfully, at least for me, it wasn’t. But it was akin to spending time (any amount, you pick it) with someone who chatters nonstop about everything and anything, with no interest in actually having a conversation. Like the Colin Robinson character in the hilarious television adaptation of What We Do in the Shadows, those people are psychic vampires and you can literally feel yourself wilting like a flower dying being in their presence. It’s a slow torture that creeps up on you and then it’s too late; your soul is like a prune.
And then there’s the soundtrack. Sorry, MUSIC did MUSIC I MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC mention that it’s MUSIC MUSIC also nonstop and often you can’t hear that incessant dialogue MUSIC? The soundtrack by unknown composer Craig Barry is excellent and I’d love to buy it, frankly. But like the rest of the movie, it plays as the movie begins and never, ever takes a breather. A constant barrage, I’d have to place the blame squarely on editor/director Thomas Lee Rutter’s shoulders. A pause here and there would have been a welcome breather to absorb what was happening.
Unfortunately, the same negative comments could be said of the cinematography; too much motion, weird angles and too many closeups (most likely to eliminate unwanted things in the background, which is actually very smart). It all doesn’t add up to great, but then I’m sure you’ve seen worse. I sure have, including from filmmakers who should know better.
So when the psychedelic/dream sequence of the film rolls around towards the end of the film, it’s something of relief as a break in the information overload. I won’t go into too many details here because frankly I don’t recall anything about it, other than thinking it was rather enjoyable. It’s possible I was just too lost in pondering what I felt went wrong with the entire production, but I do truly think this is one of the better elements of the movie. It’s tough to do a sequence like this and not have it become too melodramatic or goofy, but they pulled it off. I wouldn’t want to watch 90 minutes of it, but I’m giving them bonus points for doing a good job here. Yeehaw!
I believe there was a lot of humor intended here, but it went over my head and below my knees. Maybe I missed it… let’s say I did and call it a day. My bad.
As I write these words, I feel bad about bashing Day of the Stranger. It isn’t a terrible film in some ways; the actors really try, the plot isn’t clearly agonized over, the soundtrack overwhelming if superb and the general vibe is one of enthusiasm and joy for what they’re doing. If the director and cast were listening to me, and I’m sure they couldn’t care less, I’d want to make sure they know that I still appreciated their effort and would want to encourage further efforts. With practice, patience and learning, all the ingredients are there to make some truly interesting and entertaining future films. I sincerely hope they keep riding towards the purple range where the Old West meets super freaky.
PS; fewer blood bubbles, please. While mildly humorous and gross, it’s goofy… dammit, maybe that was the humor and I missed it. Ah well, they could always MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC!