Imagine sitting down to enjoy what, at first glance, appears to be a tasty meal only to discover that a lot of it is... underdone.
STRAY is like that. Underdone.
STRAY starts intriguingly with what appears to be a dead person, still standing and still smoking, burnt to a crisp in the middle of an old warehouse. The police are called in to investigate this perplexing discovery, and in the course of time we find out that the dead body was not burned, but rather was petrified, and apparently 1000 years old according to carbon dating. What on earth could this mystery be?
Because of identification found nearby, the lead police investigator on the case, Murphy (Christine Woods), easily tracks down the home and remaining family of the petrified victim. Here she discovers the grandmother and daughter of the victim who, unexpectedly, decline to go and identify the body. Further, they don't even seem to want to talk to the police about their murdered, or at least strangely killed, family member.
But the granddaughter, Nori, sneaks out at the first opportunity and goes to Detective Murphy and asks to see her mother's body. As soon as she does, a blatantly supernatural incident occurs and, utterly incongruously, Detective Murphy doesn't react with anything more than mild surprise. From my perspective, this is where the sense of being bland and underdone begins to build.
The movie goes forward in this way, somnambulating along through scene after scene with remarkable things happening but very little explanation or reaction from the characters forthcoming. The context or history of these magical capabilities is never really explained. All we ever really find out is that Nori is the "good" version of these special powers and her brother, Jin, is the "evil" version. Given that we have a good and evil version of super or magic powers at hand, it's just about guaranteed that they will either merge into a holistic whole (a la DARK CRYSTAL) or there will be a battle between good and evil to the death (a la about a million movies). I will leave these entirely predictable possibilities for the reader to explore.
The notions of good and evil are carried through to the special-effects. The good power of Nori is depicted as the air being filled with a close approximation of the ripples cast upon the floor of a swimming pool shortly after everyone has gotten out, followed by plants suddenly growing at an accelerated rate and culminating in blossoms springing even from the petrified form of Nori's dead mother. Conversely, Jin's evil powers are depicted as the air being filled with smoke and ash precipitating out of the air. Not the best special-effects ever, I suppose, but adequate to purpose and for representing the point the director wished to make.
Thematically, I had a problem with STRAY because the notions of good and evil as depicted are very alloyed. It could be easily argued that Jin was, initially, a complete innocent. While he was born with "evil" powers, a completely arbitrary cultural designation, they simply were what they were and he certainly didn't ask for them. When Jin is still just a child, there is an incident in which he reflexively uses his powers to protect his mother, which is completely reasonable and understandable, and his family (mother and grandmother) responds by abandoning him. If Jin is evil, then he was made that way by his mother and grandmother who, like Nori, our supposed to be "good". Initially, Jin only attacks his mother and grandmother is a downstream consequence of his abandonment and whatever horrors may have been visited upon him as a young abandoned child.
I really don't see how one could defend the mother and grandmother is being "good" given what they did to Jin.
Additionally, Nori kills just as effectively as Jin with her powers as she demonstrates very effectively by killing Jin.
In short, I'm not really sure what the message or point to STRAY was supposed to be. It can't be a representation of the battle between good and evil because they don't exist unambiguously in this movie.
I was also confused by the selection of the title "Stray". It doesn't seem to be descriptive or indicative of anything about the movie or any of the characters. Nori isn't a stray; she's an orphan. Jin isn't a stray; he was betrayed and abandoned. Who was the stray? Why was that title chosen?
Not only was the plot line more like a rough draft than a fully completed story, but the story as written seemed to be full of plot holes. For example, the grandmother surely had to recognize the manner in which her daughter was killed, petrified as she was in the warehouse, as clearly related to something that might have been done by her "evil" grandson or certainly the same kind of person with the relevant special powers. But either grandson or someone else, it clearly was not an accident and was related to the supernatural powers that were at the core of this family. Whoever killed the mother had to be aware of the rest of the members of the family and quite possibly where they lived; why would the grandmother foolishly leave herself and her granddaughter sitting ducks in the family apartment? No surprise that whoever was doing the killing quickly showed up and killed the grandmother when she was alone in the apartment. The whole thing didn't make any sense. Plot beats just need to happen and they happen whether they make sense or not.
So I return to my initial statement. STRAY was just underdone. Photography was fine, the special-effects were adequate to purpose in our current world of an endless succession of superhero comics brought to the big screen, the acting was acceptable, but the whole thing ended up being flavorless.
Action / Crime / Fantasy / Thriller
Action / Crime / Fantasy / Thriller
An orphaned teenager forms an unlikely friendship with a detective. Together they investigate her mother's murder, and uncover the supernatural force that proves to be a threat to her family.
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March 03, 2019 at 06:00 AM