The debut feature from Nena Eskridge, Stray is a dark drama with plenty of thriller elements, almost as if Lifetime had decided to make a gender switched version of The Stepfather.
Jennifer (Gabrielle Stone Speak No Evil, Aliens from Uranus) is on the run from her past, literally. When we first see her she’s stabbing a man while escaping from his van and running into the woods. She ends up in Chestnut Hill, a charming little town. Soon she’s pregnant and claims the bar’s owner Greg (Dan McGlaughlin Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard, Assumption of Risk) is the father. This does not sit well with his fiance Sarah (Samantha Fairfield Walsh Funny Bunny). Is Jennifer at last going to find the happiness she dreams of, or will her past destroy her hopes and those around her?
A micro-budget film, shot for less than $100,000, Stray makes the most of it’s small cast and a few settings. It also means it’s higher on the dramatics and manipulation aspects of the plot than I’d have liked. The drama is effective but I was hoping for a bit more thriller. Since there’s never any doubt about what Jennifer is up to there’s no reason not to play it out more and keep the suspense levels up. More stalk and less talk would have helped liven things up. There are set pieces involving house fires and they’re quite well pulled off with sound effects and a smoke machine. There’s also a clever use of re-dubbed news video to help sell them. Eskridige has some creative ideas for stretching a budget and she puts them to good use here.
She also gets good performances from her cast especially Stone, who’s the daughter of original Scream Queen Dee Wallace Stone (Cujo, The Howling) and seems to have her mother’s talent. She’s great as someone who only wants a happy family life at any price, but who’s past may make her incapable of handling it. Andrew Sensenig (We Are Still Here, Don’t Look in the Basement 2) gives a good performance as Marvin but despite his top billing it’s more of a supporting role.
While a little heavy on the soap opera elements this is a solid film, in some ways reminiscent of much older films with it’s stranger in a small town plot and execution. It reminded me a lot of the 70’s mystery/thrillers that were mainstays of late night TV back before the age of infomercials. And that is not a put down, they were solid, smart no frills films that more first time and low budget film makers would do well to study.
Indie Rights has released Stray on demand via Amazon Prime.
Official Site: http://strayfeaturefilm.com