Sunday, 22 July 2018

Stray: NZIFF Review

Stray: NZIFF Review

Mixing in elements of Starred Up, the landscapes of New Zealand and edges of last year's great festival hit God's Own Country, Dustin Feneley's strikingly sparse Stray is a ferocious debut.

Focussing in on Kieran Charnock's Jack who finds himself on parole for GBH, it's the story of one man's attempted escape from the confines of his own tortured demons and prison. Trapped in central Otago and taunted by something within, Jack's routine is one of isolation above all else.

But that changes when he returns home one night to find Grace (Arta Dobroshi) in the woods - in one of the film's rare scenes of action. She's seeking refuge and Jack reluctantly agrees to provide shelter...
Stray: NZIFF Review

Stray is a feature in no hurry to get where it's going and it's all the better for it.

It takes at least half of the film before the protagonists meet, and there are very few words spoken, though Charnock offers up some extreme subtleties in how he changes his interactions when there's someone else, someone unknown in his orbit.

But it's in his interactions with others that the true pain starts to emerge, and Charnock channels the unease well. Equally Dobroshi, with her unfamiliarity and unease gives Grace an edge that makes their connection understandable and natural.

Feneley's made the film a lighting dream; from the clear crisp shots of the outside mountains to moments of intimacy within the cabin, the screen is rarely looked more enticing. The South Island's rarely looked better either, a combination of both desolation, isolation, beauty and despondency all wrapped up into one big screen parcel.

Its ending may seem abrupt and potentially up for debate, but Stray's connection and capability for exploring the human connection makes this debut a tenacious one and marks Feneley out as a Kiwi talent to watch.

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