The Dark Stranger: Blood in The Snow Review
The Dark Stranger is writer/director Christ Trebilcock’s first feature film after writing and directing three shorts and working as director on second and third units on various television production. He has gathered a strong cast of Canadian actors to explore the story of Leah, played by How to get Away with Murder’s Rebecca: Katie Findlay, a young artist who’s finished OCAD, but is suffering from crippling anxiety and depression to the point where she is unable to open the front door. She is living with her father, played by Veronica Mars‘ and Flashpoint’s Enrico Colantoni, and younger high school brother. Toby, played by Alex Ozerov who is in another locally produced horror film, A Christmas Horror Story.
There are only three more people who enter Leah’s world. Her therapist, Dr. Anne Parsons, played by Jennifer Dale, her father’s T. A. Mark, played by Republic of Doyle‘s Mark O’Brien; and Mr. Toth, played by Stephen McHattie, all three of whom are often seen on Canadian television shows.
The story is an unglamourized view of the claustrophobic world of Leah’s depression and anxiety which is in response to a family tragedy. Most of the film plays up this tension using very selective (and very well crafted) special effects to show how Leah can’t trust her own mind. I was unsettled and impressed especially with the fountain pen, which has a bit of a Pan’s Labyrinth feel.
By cutting back on her medication, without her doctor’s knowledge, Leah starts drawing again, forming the part of the film that is animated. It depicts the graphic novel that Leah creates (or is literally drawn out of her depending on your interpretation) and works to explore Leah’s emotional journey. The graphic novel reveals the character of The Dark Stranger, but is this her creation or something more?
The artwork in the graphic novel is done by a Marvel published artist Sean Scoffield who worked with Keyframe Digital to animate the art to bring that aspect of the story to life. It it primarily pen and ink, but with extra red tones, and the film flows easily in both media.
The Dark Stranger is set in Toronto, barely. There is a shot of the CN Tower, and mentions of Kensington Market, but the location is never named. Most of the film is shot in one house, which makes sense as that is the boundaries of Leah’s world. It also allows for various angles that help build the trapped feeling.
This is a very strong first feature, with good pacing, and a deft handling of its special effects and animated components. Its story looks at the effects of depression on the family of friends as well as on the patient. And while it is a slow burn style of horror, it handles that tension well to up the very last act.