It's not easy to make a movie. The everyday cinema-goer probably doesn't think twice about what exactly went into the film that they just viewed. Most patrons see the credits rolling and jump up from their seats so as not to waste any precious time reading the names of the people who put their hearts and souls into the production.
I was lucky enough to be involved in a no-budget film several years back. This involvement left me with only the slightest bit of insight into what exactly goes on behind the scenes of movie productions. Blood, sweat and tears are only a fraction of what is required for a passion project. I'm not going to get into any of it, just know that a lot, A LOT of work goes into even a micro-budget film.
STRAY begins with our protagonist, Jennifer (Gabrielle Stone), in a compromising position engaged in a tussle of some sort in the back of a creepy van. She flees her supposed captor after getting a good jab in his arm with a knife, runs through the woods and finds her way onto a slow-moving train to who knows where. She soon falls asleep, undoubtedly exhausted from whatever's transpired that day, only to wake up having rested her head on the shoulder of an unsuspecting kind older gentleman.
We quickly learn that Jennifer is not as sweet and innocent as she portrays herself to be. She's in fact rather deceptive and self-serving, using the kind gentleman, Marvin (Andrew Sensenig), to get to his house, exploit his kindness and get him out of the way. If only poor Marvin had psychic abilities. Once poor Marvin is put to rest, Jennifer is ready to move onto her next victim Greg (Dan McGlaughlin), the owner of a local bar.
Immediately we're meant to feel for Jennifer as she's obviously been held against her will having to fight for her life. She's homeless, seemingly in need and looking for someone to take care of her. Quite frankly she's a really good actor. Jennifer is, in reality, a soulless sociopath willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. She not only ruins lives but ultimately extinguishes them.
STRAY is the first feature film from writer/director Nena Eskridge. It stars Gabrielle Stone, daughter of Dell Wallace (Stone), who, judging by her IMDB page, is no stranger to horror films. The production was undoubtedly low-budget and had an overall feel of a Lifetime movie. You know the one where the woman is beaten down by a man but ends up getting her revenge on the man in the end? Sort of like that but the woman is actually crazy, but maybe because of how a man has treated her in the past.
You could tell that effort was put into the making of this film. The people involved cared about the material and gave the best that they could. There were issues with the staging of some scenes that I can imagine weren't supposed to be played for laughs, but I was definitely chuckling. I found myself unable to connect with the main character as she was truly flawed and probably not the intended way.
The direction, score and acting were all within the realm of competency. One character in particular stood out to me, Edna (Arita Trahan), who was revealed to be Greg the bar owner's alcoholic mother. Something about her character, and the actor's performance, brought life to this otherwise lackluster production.
Making a movie, as I mentioned, is not easy. It's a massive endeavor and not something you can just jump into head first. It's not just the long days and fundraising. It's also a huge gamble. When an artist creates something, whether it's a song, a painting, a novel or a film, they're putting a piece of themselves out there on display. It's personal and raw and sometimes it's not pretty.
Cindy Van Wert