THE STORY - An orphaned teenager forms an unlikely friendship with a detective. Together they investigate her mother's murder, and uncover the supernatural force that proves to be a threat to her family.
THE CAST - Karen Fukuhara, Christine Woods, Miyavi, Ross Partridge, Takayo Fischer & Saki Miata
THE TEAM - Joe Sill (Director), J.D. Dillard & Alex Theurer (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME - 89 Minutes
THE GOOD - Refreshing to see a minority-led genre film. Christine Woods and Karen Fukuhara shine in their respective roles.
THE BAD - The story doesn’t always know where it’s heading - it doesn’t spend its 90 minutes as efficiently as it could. The characters deserved to be more fleshed-out, and the subplot regarding the detectives wouldn’t be missed if removed.
THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None
THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10
Read the FULL REVIEW
By Jacey Aldredge
“Stray” is the type of film that if done well, would’ve made for an incredible cult classic supernatural trilogy with a strong Asian female lead and fascinating Japanese folklore. It’s too bad it didn’t realize its own potential. In Joe Sill’s debut supernatural thriller, Karen Fukahara ("Suicide Squad") stars as Nori, nineteen-year-old daughter of Kyoko (Saki Miata), who has been found turned to ash in an empty factory. Stella Murphy (Christine Woods) arrives on the scene as the lead detective, mystified as to how a body could be in the inhuman state it was found. Following the forensic analysis, it’s discovered that the body is actually over 1,000 years old.
Tasked with finding the killer, detective Murphy quickly realizes there’s more to this crime than meets the eye, as Nori’s grandmother soon finds the same charred fate as her mother. While Detective Murphy seeks out the killer and takes in the orphaned Nori, she battles her own demons through drinking her past away and alienating her ex-husband and supervising lieutenant, Jake (Ross Partridge). Meanwhile, Nori must discover her part in her family’s supernatural history if she wants to find justice for her family.
There are two distinct features of “Stray” that excel expectations - Kara Fukuhara's performance as Nori, and the gritty urban superhero gifts that Nori’s family possess. Fukuhara is effervescent and stoic throughout the film, struggling with the grief of losing both of her female role models and discovering a part of her family history she’d never expected. Though the script is at times clumsy, Fukahara stays focused throughout. She’s watchable, energetic, and expressive. Nori’s character development is frankly the only well-paced thing about “Stray” - her power (implied to be a beautiful and life-breathing energy) slowly increases as the film progresses and she becomes more self-aware.
Indeed, the supernatural powers in “Stray” are reminiscent of a less mainstream “X-Men” and the conflict between Nori and her family’s murderer aren’t dissimilar to the broken friendship between Professor X and Magneto. The visual effects are pleasing and believable, both chilling and hard to look away from. The familial clash between sister, brother, and their family’s secrets deserved more focus than it got. There were so many elements of this new folklore and an old, ancient power that is never answered. We’re never told why the bodies of Nori’s mother and grandmother are aged at 1,000 years. We’re never given a look into where the power comes from, other than it seems deeply rooted in the person’s core emotion, either trauma or beauty.
Instead, the sole purpose of Nori in this film seems to be as a source of healing for detective Murphy and Jake’s broken relationship. Nori serves as a metaphor for the pain Murphy and Jake feel over a past tragedy, and ultimately becomes symbolic as the process of grief and rebirth. While Christine Woods is lovely and emphatic as the pained detective Murphy, it’s these two contrasting storylines that cause the most disillusionment for an otherwise delectably prodigious film.