By Jenni Holtz
Nena Eskridge’s “Stray” (2015) tackles the aftermath of trauma and the ongoing pain that infiltrates Jennifer’s life even after she tries to start again. The micro-budget psychological thriller is an unusual story of the not-so-pretty effects of abuse. With the limited resources it had, “Stray” still manages to be a thought-provoking thriller with strong performances.
Jennifer Davis (Gabrielle Stone) hops on a bus to escape her dark past. She awakes with her head on the shoulder of a kind man who offers her a ride and eventually, a place to stay. When he turns down her offer of marriage, she snaps; collapsing into violent habits that have kept her safe before.
Jennifer’s past is a mystery, with nuggets of information revealed slowly as the film progresses. The film deals with the aftermath of family trauma and sexual violence. Little of this is shown on-screen, though. Instead, the focus of the story is on Jennifer’s escape from the abusive situation and attempt to restart her life.
Jennifer is on the run and does what she needs to survive, even when it hurts the people around her. In the new town she winds up in, she quickly finds a job and develops a relationship with her boss, Greg Wells (Dan McGlaughlin). She gets pregnant and moves in with him, seemingly getting what she wants. Jennifer can’t escape her past, though. People from her past and poor coping skills come back to bite her and slowly but surely tear her new life to shreds.
“Stray” grapples with morality provocatively, raising questions about what one does in the most dire of situations. Jennifer could easily become an unlikable character because of the violence she enacts, but, thanks to Gabrielle Stone’s strong performance, Jennifer is a nuanced character.
She has depth, personality, and through the course of the film, she changes and adapts to her new life. It’s clear that she’s had a troubled past and she knows that what she’s doing is wrong. She acts out of desperation and emotion rather than logic. Stone’s realistic portrayal allows viewers to sympathize while still questioning her motives, leaving viewers emotional and on the edge of their seat through the course of the film.
Eskridge showcases a knack for writing complex female characters and tacking dark subject matter in original, unexpected ways. She’s definitely a writer and director to keep an eye on.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars