Writer/director Nicholas Bushman’s STRANGER IN THE DUNES follows the exploits of a troubled married couple who, while vacationing at an isolated beach property, receive an unexpected visit from an old friend.
When a mysterious discovery shatters their world, deep-rooted personal tensions viciously resurface. Trapped in their secluded paradise, the serene seaside dunes become a harrowing stage for their primal descent into madness as they test the lengths they will go for love. Here is our Screen Critix review.
Bushman’s Stranger in The Dunes comes across as a chamber piece with lofty horizons as it combines a number of genres into one. Set amid the sand sea and dunes of North Carolina, what begins as a hot and humid euro style sultry melodrama becomes something more akin to a supernatural thriller and then takes a turn towards horror.
In the beginning, we are introduced to married couple Elliot and Diana as they vacation at a secluded family beach house. They are married but they are not happy, Elliott is always angry tense and insecure around his wife while Diana seems to be just going through the motions. Via conversations and arguments across the table, we are led to believe Diana may have cheated on Elliott which is why they have escaped to the coast. This would also explain Elliott’s anger towards his partner. Although this aspect of their past is never verified.
The couple’s seclusion is destroyed by the arrival of Elliott’s oldest and best friend Wesley, who as soon as he gets to the house is treated by Diana to a view of her assets as if it’s an everyday occurrence. It’s at this point we think we know what will happen next. Wesley’s appearance will cause more tension between the couple, Diana will flirt and fall for him while Elliott will become consumed with a fit of jealousy that will destroy them all. To an extent all of this is correct and it is a story we have seen countless times before however there is a supernatural element to proceedings that gives the story originality that is desperately needed.
A 90-minute three-hander all the cast of Stranger In The Dunes are very good with Andrew Hovelson’s Elliott coming across as a powerfully angry Woody Allen and Mike Dwyer as the friend having a lot of fun as an effective loose cannon who knows his only job is to basically ruin this relationship. However, the stand out performance is easily Delphine Chaneac as Diana, a French actress of such grace and beauty she devours the screen each time she appears on it, from angelic innocence, to tease, to flirt, to femme fatale, her presence lifts each scene she is in, you can’t take your eyes off her.
The film as a whole looks like it has great production values, the sand, the sea, and the dunes are beautifully shot by Cinematographer Roy Rossovich. Both Rossovich and Bushman have decided to use a slightly washed out looking pallet that gives the film a Euro, soft focus, dream-like quality that the audience can experience amongst the chaos. While Frank LoCrasto’s score seems to also consist of a number of different genre’s that help the film make its mark and move along effortlessly.
The overall effect of the film was quite satisfactory to me, Stranger In The Dunes was attempting to be somewhere between Hitchcock via Bergman and although it certainly wasn’t either it did do its job and there were some moments to cherish, usually involving Ms Chaneac. But let’s take nothing away from Bushman for attempting that, because if you are going to aim high at least he was aiming at two of the greatest of all time and in my opinion there is nothing wrong with trying to push yourself to those heights.
Despite its slow pace there is enjoyment to be had with Strangers in The Dunes and although it’s not quite a 4-star movie it’s certainly better than 3 and I’d recommend catching it when you can.