A slow-burn thriller that digs deep at the existential darkness within: “Complete Strangers”

Last Updated: December 17, 2020By Tags: , ,

In the first five minutes of Pau Masó’s latest film “Complete Strangers, the audience is treated to a visual homage to Brian De Palma and the Italian giallo films (whether on purpose or just by accident, this will have to remain a mystery), as the camera tracks a figure in long dark hair and a stylish coat while they navigate their way to what will turn out to be a sexual rendez-vous.

As the unknown character moves through the dark red- and blue-lit hallway, making their way to the room where said sexual encounter will take place, the film immediately covers itself in a cloak of danger. Something could happen. Something has happened. The mystery of “Complete Strangers” unfurls from here.

This smart and stylish opening that immediately draws the viewer in.

Spaniard writer and filmmaker Pau Masó stars as Robert, a recovering alcoholic living on a trust fund who returns to Budapest from the U.S. to make sense of his life and desires.

He shares an apartment with Christian (Sindre Bergfall). We see, with only a few scenes of dialogue, that he cares and genuinely loved Robert. But there is a tension. Unrest. Something is not right.

The two share a home, and a bed, but Robert has already checked out, emotionally. He doesn’t want to talk, or make love. When Christian tries to touch him, he recoils in anger.

Enter Hugo (Matthew Crawley). The character is an enigma. He seems to care for Robert, who has left Christian to be with him.

Hugo is aggressively seductive and sweet from time to time but, as the layers are peeled back, there is a sense of something more sinister within. A macabre kind of verbal abuse takes shape.

As Robert joins Hugo at his cabin (against the warnings of his close friends), the narrative swells with suspense as lies, anger, and sexual dominance present a dark foe.

Pau Masó dabbled with drama and thriller in his previous films, but the filmmaker achieves a firm grip on the two genres with this new film.

There is a power dynamic between Hugo and Robert that speaks to thrillers such as Barbet Schroeder’s “Single White Female” and William Wyler’s “The Collector.”

The dangerous connection between the two men gives the film its power and its mystery.

WATCH the trailer

Masó does well in the lead role. At first his performance seems aloof, but we learn that Robert is lost in the haze of his past. The man is a walking mystery to himself and to the audience and it is through the navigation of his own past where Masó’s acting choices become clear and welcome.

Matthew Crawley is particularly good as Hugo. The character of Hugo (Matthew Crawley) is a bit older and stronger emotionally and physically and the actor uses his domineering physique to palpable dramatic effect.

Oscar Moreno’s cinematography does not draw attention to itself but paints slyly an ominous canvas that, along with Ronnie Minder’s eerie score, keeps the thriller aspects of this film standing directly behind us like an impending doom.

As the director and writer of this film, Pau Masó has crafted a dark character study of two broken men playing dangerous games with one another’s psyches.

“Complete Strangers” works very well. This is a tale of power, identity, and surrender. Identity of one’s sexuality, surrender to our needs and desires and the power to confront a darkness that exists within us.

By the film’s finale, Masó has successfully navigated his audience through the twists and occasionally Hitchcockian turns of his well-crafted screenplay.

Robert’s life is a puzzle and Masó’s script lays down the breadcrumbs for us to follow, each scene revealing just enough to turn the audience into cinematic detectives trying to unravel its mystery.

“Complete Strangers” is tense and unnerving, a film that keeps us interested and always on our toes through clever writing and well-drawn characters. Other filmmakers intent on making thrillers ought to follow Masó’s lead.

Available for streaming via Apple TV. No theatrical date scheduled for the U.S. as of this writing

Pau Masó and Matthew Crawley in “Complete Strangers”