Exclusive Interview with Guillmero Amoedo About ‘The Stranger’

Guillermo Amoedo photo

Uruguayan writer and director Guillermo Amoedo has left a solid mark on Chilean audiences with his short films and movies, and he was a co-writer on the Eli Roth productions of “Aftershock” and “The Green Inferno.” In 2014, he left his mark on American audiences with the supernatural thriller “The Stranger.”

Cristobal Tapia Montt stars as Martin, a mysterious man who arrives in a small Canadian town to look for his wife. The reasons why Martin seeks her out become clear as the movie goes on, but he quickly discovers she has died and decides to commit suicide as a result. But after he is viciously attacked by a trio of criminals, the incident soon has a snowball effect on the whole town, and its inhabitants soon find themselves ensnared in a nasty bloodbath many of them will be unable to escape.

I got to speak with Guillermo about “The Stranger” and of how he came up with the idea for it. Although it his film, Eli Roth’s name is heavily featured on the movie’s advertisements and it had me asking Guillermo how much the “Hostel” director was involved in its making. Guillermo also discussed how Cristobal was cast, of how a particularly brilliant vampire movie became a strong inspiration for “The Stranger,” and of how family always plays a big part in horror films.

The Stranger 2014 movie poster

Ben Kenber: What was the genesis of “The Stranger’s” story for you?

Guillermo Amoedo: Well it was an idea that I had five years ago in between scripts. It came actually from the idea of what kind of vampire movie I would like to see. I’m actually not a vampire movie fan, but I saw a vampire film called “Let the Right One In.” I really loved the way it is designed by genre and I really loved the way they treated the subject, and I wanted to do something very grounded in the kind of vampire films that I would like to see; more grounded and more character driven than the ones that are out there right now. I wanted to take the tone of that film and make it more grounded, but then also make it my own kind of story that was more of a character driven story about this guy who has to choose between his own family or humankind. I like this kind of character that had this deep moral conflict inside of them and has to make the tough decisions.

BK: On the surface, “The Stranger” looks like a vampire movie, but it also has elements of a ghost movie as well as supernatural elements as well. Was it always your intention to mix up genres with this movie?

GA: Yeah, that was the idea. It has of course some supernatural elements, but it’s more about the people than it was about the supernatural powers. That’s why I wanted to make all the supernatural stuff as minimal as possible. They don’t have wings, they don’t fly, they just have some stuff from the vampire mythology but they’re actually pretty human.

BK: “The Stranger” has Eli Roth’s name on the top of this movie’s advertisements and I know that you worked with him previously on “Aftershock.” What part did he play in the making of “The Stranger?”

GA: Well he helped a lot in the development of the script and had a lot of notes. He also helped us a lot in post-production with different cuts and ideas. He was involved in different stages of this process. This is the fourth film where we have been involved with Eli and we have a very friendly collaboration process with him.

BK: I really enjoyed Cristobal Tapia Montt’s performance as Martin and I love how he holds the audiences’ attention just with a single stare. What was it like directing him in “The Stranger?”

GA: He was amazing. Originally the script was written for someone older, much older, like 45 or 50 years old. But then before doing the film I made a short film and I casted him for it. I changed the age of the character in order to cast him, and he did such a wonderful job that I changed everything so he could play the role of Martin. He’s a terrific actor. He has a lot of experience working in Chilean films and TV, and I hope he can have more opportunities in the future.

BK: I liked that, as a writer, you didn’t go out of your way to spell out everything in the movie’s story for the audience. As a writer, how important is it for you to keep secrets from the audience?

GA: Well I think it has to be a balance of how much you can tell without revealing everything, but you also don’t want to reveal too much. There’s a line that says the secret to being boring is to tell everything. You have to test sometimes the script and then the movie to see how much you can hold back from the audience and how much you have to give them so it’s tricky sometimes. It also depends a lot on the kinds of audiences. Some people get mad because they want to know everything. It’s like the tip of the iceberg; you have to tell as much information as necessary so that the audience can understand the story, but then you can leave a lot of stuff that the audience can fill with their own imagination. So I like to do a lot of that stuff where people have to fill part of the story with their own imagination.

BK: Ariel Levy who plays Caleb, the town bully, was he meant to have the same hairstyle as Eminem in this movie?

GA: (Laughs) That wasn’t actually the idea, but now that you mention he does look a lot like an Eminem fan. It was to change Ariel’s aspect as much is possible, so we changed his haircut and his hair color and he was intended to resemble Ben Foster in “3:10 to Yuma,” but something like that more than Eminem. It was changing Ariel’s aspect everything to get him more involved in his character.

BK: Nicolás Durán’s character of Peter is referred to as a tagger which is slang for graffiti artist, and it was interesting to see the symbolism in what he was painting. Was there any intentional symbolism in what he was spraying over the walls in town?

GA: There is one thing: the symbol that he writes on the walls is the same as the marking that Cristobal’s character has on his wrist. That’s actually the idea that there is some kind of connection between them, and it’s a made up symbol that has to do with something the Greeks used to do. They used to mark the people who are ill before Christ, so we are trying to build a mythology between that and what kind of character that Cristobal plays.

BK: I imagine you had a very tight budget to work with on “The Stranger” and a short schedule to make it in. How much did that force you to be more creative while shooting?

GA: Always limitations, I think, are better. Sometimes you have too many limitations to work with, but when you have enough… It’s a good thing to know your limitations from before, so when I wrote the script I knew how many pages we could shoot a day and how much stuff we could do so I tried to plan everything right from the beginning. Then when there’s so much trouble that I think we were pretty much prepared for the worst, and we ended up doing a pretty good job.

BK: The town where you shot “The Stranger” in has a wonderfully Gothic feel to it as well as a great small-town vibe which fits the movie perfectly. Did you always plan to shoot the movie there, or did this town come to your attention through a location scout?

GA: Well we actually planned to shoot everything at another town that was farther away from the town (we shot in), more South. This town is near a place near another town where one of the producers of the movie has a house where he always goes to for vacation. He told me that this place was great and had lakes and volcanoes and everything. We went there and it was amazing. I mean everywhere you could shoot from anyplace and you would have three volcanoes in a lake in the town in the view and everything. It was an amazing place to shoot.

BK: How would you describe “The Stranger” to an audience that has yet to see it?

GA: I would say it is a supernatural thriller about the clash of two fathers who have to decide why on one side this father has this desire to save his son or put in danger the whole of humankind and decides to save humankind, and there’s the other one who decides to save his kid and puts the whole of humankind in danger. So there’s this clash of morals between fathers.

BK: Family always plays a big part in the best horror films.

GA: Yeah, and that’s what actually the film was about. Aside from the supernatural stuff, it’s about how far would you go to save your kid. How much would you put in and risk to save them? Even though your kid might become a monster, it’s still your kid. So that kind of challenges and creates a moral conflict, and that’s what the movie is about.

A big thank you to Guillermo Amoedo for taking the time to talk with me. “The Stranger” is available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Advertisements

‘Shoplifters’ is an Emotional Rollercoaster and One of the Best Movies of 2018

Shoplifters movie poster

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” is one of the most emotionally resonant movies I have seen in 2018, and it is a real gem in a cinematic year dominated by, big surprise, superhero blockbusters and endless sequels. The hope and warm emotions which emanate from it feel like the kind I have not been witness to on the silver screen in ages, and the movie dares you to ponder what the word family really means. While many see families being bound by blood, “Shoplifters” suggests there is more to it than that.

Things start off with Osamu Shibata (Lilly Franky) arriving at a supermarket in Tokyo, Japan, and we will eventually see how this movie got its name. With him is the young Shota (Jyo Kairi), and they use hand signals with each other to indicate when the coast is clear to take what they want and need. Put aside the fact no parent or adult figure should ever be teaching a child to steal; these two have an effective system which leads to them obtaining the goods they need without going through the checkout line or setting off an array of alarms. More importantly, it shows the strong connection between these two, and it is not one which is easily formed.

Upon arriving home, we see they with several other people in a cramped apartment which was made for two people at best. Among them are Osamu’s wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), who works an unforgiving and low-paying job at a local laundromat, their daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) who performs sex shows for anonymous customers, and grandmother Hatsue Shibata (the late Kirin Kiki who steals every scene she is in) whose residence they all reside in. Everyone here is suffering through an unsteady economy dominated by recession, so these characters are forced to steal items such as food and clothes in order to get by. Yes, Hatsue does have her late husband’s pension to fall back on, but it is never enough to fulfill their needs.

Then on one cold evening as Osamu and Shota are returning after another successful day of shoplifting, they come across Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), a 5-year-old homeless girl sitting all alone by herself. As the temperature decreases rapidly, and you could do a drinking game for every time a character says “it’s cold,” they decide to take her home for the night. With their apartment overcrowded, Nobuyo suggests they return Yuri home, but a visit to her residence reveals her parents are abusive to one another and to Yuri as well. As a result, Osamu and Nobuyo find themselves informally adopting her.

What struck me most about “Shoplifters” is how genuine its emotions feel. From a distance, the description of the plot might make it seem something along the lines of “Three Men and a Baby” or maybe even “Raising Arizona,” both of which featured characters who become parents in unorthodox ways. But Kore-eda is not out to manipulate our emotions for a single second as he lets life unfold before us in a way which feels real and unpredictable. No one appears to be acting here, and every single actor inhabits their roles to where you are seduced into the movie’s wonderful atmosphere with what seems like relative ease.

The affection everyone in the small apartment has for Yuri feels wonderful and hopeful to take in, and her presence has a profound effect on them all. The scene where Nobuyo and Yuri burn the 5-year-old’s clothes in an effort to start fresh in life speaks volumes. The two share scars of past abuse, and Nobuyo cuddles her and says how people show their love for one another through hugs, not violence. If there has been a more genuinely sweet scene in a 2018 movie, I missed it.

As for the others, Osamu and Nobuyo find an intimacy in their relationship which has eluded them for far too long, and Aki yearns to get closer to one of her customers as she can no longer keep him at a distance. Shota slowly begins to bond with Yuri to where he feels comfortable calling her sister, but this later leads him on a journey to find himself in a way which will have inevitable consequences for everyone that we don’t really see coming.

Revealing more of what happens in “Shoplifters” would be criminal, but I can tell you the last half is truly devastating as everything we thought we knew about these characters is turned upside down. One of Kore-eda’s masterstrokes as a writer and director is he never judges the characters, and as a result, neither did I. Even as the local news reports of Yuri’s disappearance, Osamu and Nobuyo justify their actions by saying they did not kidnap her since they never asked for a ransom. It’s a weak defense to be sure, but seeing the connection these characters have with one another deeply moved me to where I actually found myself giving them a pass which I never would have in real life.

With “Shoplifters,” Kore-eda aims to look at what makes a family. While we collectively believe it is blood which makes a family, he wonders if there is more to a family than that. At a key moment, one of the characters says if having a baby automatically makes you a parent. Well that goes without saying, but considering the love and affection these characters grace Yuri with, I had a hard time finding enough of a reason to separate her from them.

Kore-eda was also influenced by the Japanese recession, and he uses this to deal with the declining social statuses many are forced to deal with in the country. Then again, “Shoplifters” could be about any country where greed continues to wreak havoc due to corporations valuing the size of their profits over the rights of the workers who helped get them those profits. We Osamu trying to get whatever work he can, and the work he gets never pays enough. Nobuyo’s job offers her a pathetically low wage, and then later we get a scene where her boss forces her and her co-worker to decide amongst themselves who should get fired when it is determined there is only enough money to keep one of them on the payroll.

“Shoplifters” is a movie which will stay with you long after you have watched it. I was deeply moved by it from start to finish as its humanity really made me appreciate the value of family in a way no other movie has in a long time. We are at a point where there are far too many movies to keep up with, but this is one I highly recommend you check out above others. This one took me for quite the emotional ride and left me fully wringed out by its end, and the experience was one of the most rewarding.

* * * * out of * * * *