They say you can’t escape your destiny. But there are a lot of films built around the idea of knowingly or not, cheating the Grim Reaper. From Carnival Of souls to Jacobs Ladder and the Final Destination franchise it’s a common theme. Writer/director Christopher Wesley Moore (Children of Sin, Blessed Are The Children) takes the theme on in A Stranger Among The Living. Is there anything new to be added to this genre? Or is this a collection of resurrected cliches?
Henry (Jake Milton, Blood Country) is a teacher, but he’d rather be an actor. So he blows off work one day to go to an audition. That’s the same day a student goes on a shooting spree. Henry may have been spared, but there are those who are unhappy about that. Most notably, those who died in the shooting.
It seems Henry suspected there was something wrong with the shooter. When the administration refused to act he let it drop rather than go to the police. Now the victims are haunting him. Or are they? Is his guilt manifesting itself via hallucinations?
A Stranger Among The Living is very much a slow burn of a film. Moore’s previous films have dealt with social issues such as abortion. So it’s not surprising he takes a deep dive into mass killings and survivor guilt here. But adding in Henry’s feeling about wasting his life versus simply packing up and chasing his dreams makes the film feel too much like a drama at times. An extended sequence between Henry and Jarvis (Christopher Wesley Moore) a fellow actor he meets in a therapy group is well done, but really kills the film’s pace.
The scenes with the ghosts are similarly low key. Like The Bone Box, this is as much about atmosphere and mood than jump scares. For most of A Stranger Among The Living, the dead are more prone to stare menacingly at Henry or fellow survivor Jessica (Keni Bounds) than to attack. This is not to say they aren’t scary. There’s a scene in a parking garage that combines the constantly approaching spectres and the film’s score to build incredible tension.
A Stranger Among The Living lacks the dark humour of Moore’s previous films. In fact, it’s pretty much devoid of any humour or lighter moments. Combined with the more deliberate pace and lack of jumps some viewers will find it dull. But those who appreciate mood and atmosphere and don’t mind all the character study will find this to their liking.
A Stranger Among The Living is currently on the festival circuit. You can check the film’s Facebook page for screening dates.