“Welcome the Stranger” (2018)
Running Time: 94 minutes
Written & directed by: Justin Kelly
Featuring: Abbey Lee, Caleb Landry Jones and Riley Keough
Alice: “People lie by saying they are happy when they’re not. Not the other way around.”
This month sees the release of a movie that barely made a ripple when released in international cinemas, which is completely understandable when viewed, it is a moody piece of film-making that really does not want to be understood in the slightest, it is a stream of consciousness that has been written and directed by the same person, Justin Kelly, who seems to have produced the movie he wanted, that is “Welcome the Stranger” (2018). I do not have a clue as to the genesis of this movie or how the cast was brought together which I am baffled at, as this entire production seems to be a stab at some kind of Lynchian homage that really does not come off at all. This is a real letdown as it seems to have some attractive qualities for a slow build thriller, with a small cast of three, one main location that is full of nooks to really build tension and a director who seems, at least from previous movies, to know what he is doing. However what actually happens is that the leads are cyphers that do not stand out in their characters, lifeless directing, a narrative that does hold together and a story that is so routine that when some of the fantastic elements are introduced they seem to be presented to take a viewers mind away from the story. If you are going to ‘do Lynch’ then you need to make sure you have an interesting narrative as well as actors that can pull off what your vision is, here we do not.
Justin Kelly is the writer/director of “Welcome the Stranger” who has directed a few movies early in his career, this is his first take on something completely original which while I admire him for reaching he possibly does not have the experience to really build a fully realised fantasy that makes sense on its own terms. Even when straying from a classic narrative structure the film that is eventually produced shouldn’t be an exercise in vanity for both actors and director, it may seem like you are breaking rules or conventions but in the end the film you make could be a reflection of not only you but your talents as well. This may have worked much better if the actors were stronger or more experienced so they could inform the director how they should behave in a real environment, taking the queues from them then using that in the narrative. It even took David Lynch time to become the director he is, he made conventional films then moved into the abstract with people he trusted.
“Welcome the Stranger” revolves around Alice who arrives at her estranged brother Ethan’s house in an attempt to reconcile, but bizarre visions, the return of his strange girlfriend, and Alice’s paranoia and suspicion force the siblings to cling to reality amidst mysterious circumstances.
The two real leads of this movie are Abbey Lee and Caleb Landry Jones who do their best but struggle with what they are asked to do. Whether either of them have the actual talent to convince an audience of who they are is questionable to say the least. It should come as no surprise that Lee is a model who has appeared in a few movies but relies on her looks too much to really inform who she is onscreen which is a shame, it may have actually been more appropriate to cast Riley Keough in her role, as she has played fully formed character’s prior to this and is fascinating to watch onscreen as she feels dangerous which is what this role required. The most experienced actor in the cast is Jones who has made appearance in big budget movies as well as independent film who seems to know how he looks as well as presents himself onscreen, adjusting his performance as required which is a real strength as a young actor who is still learning as he goes.
My main issue really with the film is that it seems like an overblown student film that attempts to be about ‘something’ but instead ends up really being quite disappointing which would not be an issue, if it were a student film, but it is not. That is not to say that there ae not moments of humour as well as questions that are asked of the main characters, which are for periods answered well, but nothing really sticks which is loss. Considering that a large part of the movie is set inside Kelly does get some nice shots and angles out of his environment, the period spent outside are a little dark as are the motives for the strange lights that appear each night – this could have been handled better as well to be honest.
I have to admit that when the film began I was very interested in how this story was going to unfold especially with a brother and sister whose relationship has been strained, by what we really do not know. This could have been a drama that would hold interest by itself but then it takes a left turn, we are introduced to strange goings on at night with maybe a UFO, murder and a large hole in the ground which by the time the end comes all add up to very little. It is the left turn that is the killer here which lost my interest completely and by the time the forty five minute mark came up I was just waiting for it to come to an end – not the feeling I want in a movie.
The big question is would I recommend this movie, the answer is probably not unless it was on a streaming service as part of a general subscription fee, possibly as some kind of background movie where you were doing something else as well. This is a prime example of a perfect movie not to be released on DVD but to go straight to a streaming service where you could even watch over a longer period of time.
“Welcome the Stranger” is out now on DVD, alas not on a streaming service.