1966, United States of America: Kennedy is unable to prevent the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962, creating a nuclear winter throughout the country that seems to have no end. Our nations structure collapses, our nations defenses fall and our nations people suffer from severe radiation poisoning, mutating them into ghoulish, flesh eating monsters. Tracey Arnold, the man with no direction, struggling to accept his actions and live with himself, travels through this barren wasteland at a constant battle with his humanity, and the Stray that refuses to let him forget.
On the surface, Cam Clark’s post apocalyptic horror looks like just another zombie film, but in reality to is much, much more. The Stray is actually a very smart character study that just happens to be set in an alternative reality where the Cuban Missile Crisis played out much differently.
Set in 1966, The Stray follows Tracey Arnold (Joe Leatherman), the sole survivor of a crack army task force that was sent out after the fall of civilisation to rescue any survivors. After his colleagues were one by one picked off by “the Stray”, which is what the zombies are referred as, he is left alone, spending his days aimlessly wandering from place to place, just looking to survive. With food and ammunition in short supply, and sick of the never ending solitude, Tracey ponders ending it all with a bullet to the head. Until, that is, Tracey stumbles across a family of survivor called The Grey family, who take pity on him and take him into their home. Finally, Tracey has some company and there appears to light at the end of the tunnel. But, as this is a horror film, I'm sure you have guessed that it isn't the end of the tale!
The Stray was written and directed by Cam Clark. Although this was his feature film debut, he showed a lot of ability and a good eye for detail. A lot of first time directors would have chosen a splatter fest as their first film that would hide their inexperience. There were one or two dodgy scenes and spoken passages throughout the film, but for the most part he did a good job. The relationship between Tracey and the family did feel very natural, and seemed to progress organically.
With the film being character and plot driven, it was important that the cast performed well. Joe Leatherman played his part brilliantly, and you could almost see the emptiness of his life in his eyes. The majority of the cast were inexperienced actors, and while it showed in a lot of them, the actors chosen to play the Grey family were all really good. Its a shame that some of the actors who played the smaller parts let them down though, with some truly comical acting appearing in the first 25 minutes.
Unlike in a lot of other independent zombie films, the zombies were not the focal point, and were only used to progressed the plot or for a set piece. Although not the best out there, they looked ok, and the actors who played them were impressive.
There were quite a few negatives though. The first is one that I struggle to find acceptable, and is the dips in sound quality. This is 2016, and you can find good quality recording equipment for a snip in most electrical stores. There were more than a few occasions when it was truly inaudible, and i seemed to spend most of the film turning the tv up and
down to compensate.
Also, being plot driven, there were quite sustained periods were things ground to a holt, and it took all my concentration not to drift off. I think with a bit more experience the director could have paced it better. Add to that the acting of some of the members of the supporting cast, and it really does bring the quality down a few notches.
To sum up, it was a shame that the director lost control of the pacing, as this was an original and refreshing take on the zombie sub-genre. It was, in the whole, acted well and the tasteful and sparing use of the zombies was a brave decision. If you want a full on splatter fest, then I don't this might not be the one for you. But if you want your horror fix, but cant stomach the gore then i recommend you give this a bash.