A new Canadian film, The Dark Stranger, focuses on the connection between depression and art. Written and directed by Chris Trebilcock, The Dark Stranger is a psychological thriller that drags you into a young girl’s troubled mind. Who is the stranger and what does he want with Leah? Find out after the jump.
Produced by Raven Banner Entertainment and shot on location in Toronto, The Dark Stranger stars Katie Findlay (How To Get Away With Murder, The Killing) as Leah Garrison, a young artist and graphic novelist struggling with the death of her mother. Mom was also an artist, who began drinking and exhibiting signs of mental illness while working on her last drawing. Leah witnessed the slow disintegration of her mother, Ellen Garrison, and blames herself for her mother’s suicide.
In the beginning we only get little snippets about Leah’s mother and how she slowly disappeared inside her madness. Luckily for Leah, her father (Enrico Colantoni, one of my favorite actors ever since I first saw him in Galaxy Quest as the alien Mathesar) is a loving a patient man who is beside himself with worries that his daughter may have inherited Ellen’s (Emma Campbell) extreme depression. Leah’s brother Toby (Alex Ozerov) feels his dad is being manipulated by Leah. Is she using her depression to get her own way?
Leah does exhibit the classic signs of depression, agoraphobia and schizophrenia. She hears voices and sees strange things and she is afraid to leave the house, refusing to take a shower or stay in contact with her college friends. Her mood does improve when she receives psychiatric help from Dr. Parsons (Jennifer Dale) and then becomes friends with Mark (Mark O’Brien), her father’s teaching assistant, but as the film progresses, we suspect that there may be an outside force that is possessing Leah.
We are drawn deeper into the mystery when an art dealer named Randall Toth (Stephen McHattie) wants to showcase Ellen’s art work. Toth’s interest in her mother’s work causes Leah to begin work on a dark graphic novel where she creates an antagonist called “The Dark Stranger.” Scary things begin to happen, people begin to die, and we are never sure if what we are seeing on the screen is Leah’s hallucination or a real bogeyman. Who is the dark stranger and what is his connection to Mr. Toth?
Katie Findlay, who is a very talented young actress, was a joy to watch and she did an awesome job of portraying someone suffering from depression and schizophrenia. Chris Trebilcock was able to pull us into Leah’s mind and to make us feel each cut that she inflicted onto her body. I have a granddaughter who suffers from schizophrenia and I found the scenes with Katie Findlay quite believable.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful artwork that was so important to the storyline. I found myself drawn completely into the story and Leah’s mind via the fantastic art work and characters done by comic book artist, Sean Schofield.
Why do artists seem to suffer from depression? Is it part of the creative process or can one only create art in an atmosphere of sadness? I know my granddaughter is talented, but like Leah, she sees and hears things… and, she cuts herself. Like Leah, my granddaughter is getting help, but after watching this excellent film, I’m wondering if the artist truly owns their art, whether it be books, paintings or graphic novels. Does the art possess the artist like some selfish demon?
In this film, Leah must determine if the dark stranger is real or part of her madness. We, as the viewers, must learn to navigate a troubled mind. Is the dark stranger real? The Dark Stranger is currently available on VOD in Canada from Raven Banner Entertainment and Terror Films. It will be released in the States this October and you can learn the answer then.