Billed as the UK’s first ever acid-western; Tom Lee Rutter’s Day of the Stranger is an ultra low budget indie film which aims to shoot straight from the hip. Starring Dale Sheppard and Gary Baxter (Beyond Fury) and loosely adapted from Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger, Day of the Stranger is an ambitious stab at the acid-western genre with a beating indie heart.
A bounty killer (Caine) is chasing down two fugitives, pissed off at the death of his horse, he proceeds to carry one of the men’s dead bodies through an unforgiving and endless sand desert for miles while battling dehydration and exhaustion. Eventually Caine collapses and starts to hallucinate, seeing a dreamy figure of a woman. Upon returning to his boss to return one of the men’s dead bodies he has a new business proposition on the table. Everyone dreams of one more pay day, a job to make all your troubles go away. Well, chasing a good life has its risks…
For any western to hit the mark, the aesthetics need to be right. Filmed in the Midlands and Wales, this film doesn’t have the luxury of sun scorched deserts and mountain hills, but impressively it makes use of what is available and plugs the gaps. Visually the film has an artificial grain effect and a slightly dark lighting and filters which mimic the visuals of El Topo (1970). There are sand beaches, forests and wooden housing which give the locations an authentic look. We also have voice dubbing and over-acting which gives the film a spaghetti western style but never forces it more than it needs to. For a film on a micro budget, it is impressive that each of the small details of what is expected in a western film are addressed meticulously.
Despite it’s strong attention to detail and the length at which the production has gone to replicate a western environment, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Day of the Stranger has a barrel full of jokes and light comedy in its arsenal and it slides humour in occasionally to keep things fun and interesting. You can tell a lot of heart went into the production and you have to take your hat off to its delivery. The acting is actually pretty decent for the most part and the fake American accents are never taken seriously enough to be judged. The actors clearly gave their all to try to be fitting to the story and it works very well.
At times Day of the Stranger is violent, over the top and gung-ho but there are times where it became heavy on dialogue and took the foot off the gas. The writing is solid but it’s a shame that the gun fights were few and far between because they were so damn good. The film starts with a hail of gunfire with glorious practical and CGI blood squirts and kills, I wish there were more of this as it was executed perfectly. My favourite character in the film was Loomweather. Portrayed excellently by Gary Shail (Shock Treatment, Quadrophenia) , he added a new dimension to the film with his standout performance.
As the film moved into its final third it really pushed towards psychedelic territory and this is when it really took strides towards greatness. Without giving anything away, the final scenes are worth more than just your time and money. The film looked incredible during these scenes and it left me in a state of euphoria.
When Day of the Stranger pushes itself out of its western shell, it finds a niche which is both eye catching and bonkers. Tom Lee Rutter hasn’t set out to copy what has been done already, he has delivered a very entertaining acid-western which will leave fans of the genre drooling at the mouth.
As the saying goes, sometimes less is more. Day of the Stranger does the best it can with location and budget constraints and is a fine example of the DIY attitude in the indie community.