For police detectives, the first day back to work after a lengthy mental-health break has to be the absolute worst. The problem is you always get the most problematic case, that no one wants to have and no one wants to hear you moan about. For Detective Murphy (Christine Woods), she is assigned a mysterious case of a petrified woman discovered in an abandoned urban warehouse. Blending the police procedural with the supernatural comes director Joe Sill’s Stray.
The petrified woman is a Japanese mother named Kyoko (Saki Miata). While young in appearance, the carbon dating on her petrified remains places her age at over a few centuries. Baffled by this supernatural oddity, Murphy continues her investigation by interviewing Kyoko’s mother, Saeko (Takayo Fischer) and daughter Nori (Karen Fukuhara). Saeko has nothing to say to Detective Murphy and forbids Nori from speaking as well.
Meanwhile, back at the station, Nori visits Murphy and asks to see her mother’s body. After seeing it, Nori shrieks and suddenly a powerful supernatural force of some sort envelops by Nori and her mother and after a minute or so, a flower blooms from Kyoko’s solid corpse. These powers must be tied to nature somehow.
“…assigned a mysterious case of a petrified woman discovered in an abandoned urban warehouse…”
Murphy decides to take Nori home, and upon arrival at her apartment, ash and a little uneasiness are floating in the air. Yes, grandma is petrified, too. Now orphaned, Murphy takes Nori home with her. What happened to Nori’s family? Why is Murphy a little too attached to Nori? Does Nori have some kind of superpowers and how dangerous is she? Are there others like her?
So, here’s the deal with Stray. It’s a mystery that is neither interesting nor exciting. Character-wise, the most interesting is Detective Murphy. She has a backstory. She suffered a significant loss, which ruined her marriage and derailed her professional life. These facts play into her investigation and create an interesting dynamic with Nori. Speaking of Nori, she is a girl with strange abilities bestowed upon her by her mother and grandmother. She must use this power against the big baddie. This is about as deep as Nori’s character gets.
Then there’s the mystery of the superpowered Nori and the death of Kyoko and Saeko. Let’s start with the basic mystery. Good mysteries set out clues, and as the protagonist finds them, they figure out the plot of the story and the mystery behind it. In Stray, there is no mystery to solve in the sense that clues are not there to be discovered, but the clues reveal themselves and the heroes follow them to its final conclusion. Honestly, that’s no fun.
“…the clues reveal themselves and the heroes follow them to its final conclusion.”
Regarding Nori’s powers, for some reason, everyone seems to be cool with them. The first powerful expression of Nori’s abilities at Kyoko’s petrified corpse was no minor incident. Loud noises, walls shaking, astral forces spinning like a whirlwind, and the response by the police force was essentially no big deal. All of a sudden, supernatural powers have been displayed in the city, and everyone’s okay with it. They’ll just let the investigation play out before they really question anything.
The problem with Stray is that it doesn’t ever connect with the audience, with the exception of Murphy’s back story. The mystery just unfolds, and we as the audience never engage in the mental exercise of piecing clues together and finding an answer. The film’s effects are just as exciting. The final battle between good and evil essentially involves two people standing with CG-effects surrounding them. No hand-to-hand combat or elaborate stunts. The story is interesting to watch, but you’d be hard-pressed to go back to a second time.
Stray (2019) Directed by Joe Sill. Written by J.D. Dillard, Alex Theurer. Starring Karen Fukuhara, Christine Woods, Miyavi, Takayo Fischer, Saki Miata.
5 out of 10 stars