It's been a dream of man forever probably, that elusive fountain of youth. Either literally via some kind of magic fountain, or through science or magic. Imagine, an actual fountain of youth. You slip in, paddle around for a bit and voila! Young again and forever. Just as sought after? A way to almost instantly heal and cheat death. Get hit by a car? No problem, we've got you covered. Been stabbed by your wife? No problem buckaroo - we can take care of that as well. In Nicholas Bushman's film "Stranger In The Dunes," a trio of vacationers find the literal fountain of youth. Only it doesn't take care of the age issue, it brings people back from the dead. Miraculously healing away any wounds in the process. Can you imagine?
Elliot and his wife Diana have taken some time for themselves to vacation at his beach house, a beautiful secluded second home located on a desolate beach. The perfect fodder for a home invasion flick or supernatural ghost story of sorts. Don't people know that nothing good happens when you vacation in seclusion? Ever? In Bushman's film however, it's not a crazy psycho or evil spirit that shows up - it's their friend Wesley. Every bit as crazy as a psycho and playful as any poltergeist could hope to be. Wesley is an old, old friend it seems - so his antics are expected from Elliot and hoped for by Diana. It's during an accident, that is borderline not an accident at all, that Wesley discovers something very magical in the dunes. A fountain that, you guessed it ladies and gents, brings the dead back to life. Not as zombies, but just as whatever returns was before dying. This fountain of sorts is the backbone of the story; the ongoing arc in an otherwise somber look at relationships. For me, "Stranger In The Dunes" was a people-first, supernatural second kind of film. A drama with a dash of weird.
On a technical level, this was a movie that didn't mess around. The cast and crew all knew exactly what they were doing and because of that, "Stranger In The Dunes" looks and sounds great. The acting from our three main characters is excellent, the visuals are top-notch and it sounds just as good as you hope it will. It is however, paced a little slowly and definitely takes its time getting off the ground. I've not one of those people who enjoy the slow burn and attribute that to the break-neck pace of movies nowadays. For me, if the violent discovery in the film happened ten minutes or so sooner, I wouldn't have brought anything up. Character building beforehand is always a good idea. But most of what I learned about these characters could have been put in after the discovery.
Speaking of character building, I can honestly write that the people who populate this film are quite unlikable. I never really connected with any of them save a grumble because quite frankly, they are all a bunch of dicks in one way or the other. Diana is maybe the most likable of the bunch, but even she comes across as slippery and the poster woman for adultery. I'm not writing that the actors did a bad job. On the contrary, the acting is great. I just found it very hard to like these people and that got me thinking. How many people do I personally know that are assholes in one form or another? Lots. Lots and lots. So perhaps my dislike for these characters is a good thing. It adds an extra layer of realism to the movie. There's no perfect hero or heroine present in this story, and that makes it all the more real.
As evidenced by my four-star review, the slower nature of the film or lack of a cliche hero-type didn't change one simple fact. This is a pretty great film. It puts it's supernatural element on the back burner so it can concentrate on more dramatic, real things. People. The characters here are not all that likable but they are surely people all the same. Flawed and gritty people. The kind you see every day in the real world. It was interesting to see how real folks interact with one and other, that's not all perfect and shiny. As an added bonus, I had a lot of memories brought back of watching some of my favorite films of yesteryear. "Stranger In The Dunes" made me think of the old classic, "Death Becomes Her." Consider this film akin to that one, minus the comedy. Well done, a solid four stars.