The internet can be a terrifying place. There are tremendous benefits, sure, but far too often, the web serves as a veil for scumbags to hide behind. The Stranger, Nicole Nielsen Horanyi’s semi-documentary, highlights one such case, and will surely make you think twice before giving your trust to someone you don’t know.
The film, which is part documentary and part reenactment, follows Amanda Kastrup, a single mother living in Denmark who falls in love with Casper, a man she met through a mutual friend online. After several weeks of talking back and forth, Casper reveals himself to be the heir of a rich family, and the happy couple begins making plans to start their life together, despite the disapproval of Casper’s family and friends, who suspect that Amanda is only interested in their family’s money. Amanda’s dream life soon comes crashing down, however, when she finds that her new lover may not be who he seems.
There are several aspects of The Stranger that I found admirable and masterfully executed. Horanyi’s direction is unique and distinct to her vision. With audacious wide shots and a splendid attention to detail, the director frames her documentary like something we’d see in a wide release feature film. Her style is never less than interesting, even when the story takes its time (more on that soon), and I found the moments in which she interrupts the reenacted scenes to talk about the real life story and reset her actors to be quite captivating.
The actors, too, are wonderful throughout, namely Amanda Kastrup, who plays herself in the film. I don’t know if Kastrup has had any other work as an actress, but she makes for a fantastic, realistic lead in her own story. Her charm, humor, and hopefulness will undoubtedly draw viewers to her personality, but her naivety of the situation is what truly showcases her humanity. She desperately wanted this dream life to exist, so she allowed herself to ignore the signs that were right in front of her the entire time. For me, the most powerful moments of entire film came in her times of reflection on the situation when she realizes the insanity of all she’s been through, and how, to some extent, she allowed the bizarre events to continue. That realization makes Kastrup an easy character to sympathize with, and her work in the reenacted scenes makes me wish that she were a full-time actress.
Unfortunately, The Stranger isn’t always an easy viewing. While it boasts an interesting story, much of the runtime is spent setting up the relationship between Amanda and Casper. Fifty or so minutes pass before Horanyi’s effort really grabbed a hold of my attention, which makes the 100-minute documentary feel more like a chore than an enjoyable feature, at least for the first half of the film. Had The Stranger aired as part of an hour-long true crime television series, or if its setup had been twenty minutes shorter, it would have made for a tighter, more captivating experience.
Director Horanyi effectively highlights this true crime story with flashes of brilliance behind the camera, and she gets top-notch work from her actors in the reenacted scenes. However, the setup of the film drags on for too long, which ultimately makes The Stranger feel like it’s overstaying its welcome. It’s worth a watch for the true story, direction and performances, but you may find yourself wanting a nap afterwards.