"The Stray" is a true story of a stray dog who "saves" a father, his son, and friends after lightning strikes their tent. To me, part of being a movie reviewer is to be as fair to a movie as I can be - one of the ways I try to do this is I write my movie reviews within 24 hours of watching the film. In nearly every case I enjoy sleeping on what I've just seen and reviewing it the next morning. I did just that with "The Stray", but something very strange has happened to me this morning...I barely remember anything about this movie. It's not because I can't try, it's because I don't want to. This movie is a train wreck with a decent movie poster - save your money and watch something else.
I don't even know what to say other than the Acting is bad. Very bad. Of course, whenever the Acting is bad you can 99% of the time assume the Story/script is bad, which it is. So the poor acting isn't all on this cast. At the same time, I found the kid actors to be especially weak. A lot was asked of them, and they just didn't bring the emotion that was needed. Michael Cassidy who plays "Mitch Davis" (who oddly wrote and directed the movie, not recommended) just doesn't work for me. He doesn't help build any sort of tension. And I honestly can't tell if this was his fault or the script, but he doesn't display any emotional maturity. I'll talk about this later, but the most surprisingly bad thing about this movie is that very intense stuff happens but there is little to no emotional maturity (e.g. "hey son, let's talk about how you saw that I was dead for 5 minutes, because that could affect the rest of your life"). Maybe my biggest problem with the Acting is that the dog ("Pluto") is a great "actor", BUT we barely ever see him or connect with him. Whenever he does something heroic, it's rarely acknowledged, until it's too late. Look, after recently watching "Marley & Me" I can't even explain how much of a gap exists between these two movies in terms of how we connect with the characters. At the end of "The Stray" I'm 0% connected to this cast.
The movie does have good themes, but they don't save it - they just feel cliche. The dad is a workaholic who can't connect with his kids and the mom is trying to stay sane until finally they both agree to leave LA and move to Colorado. In Colorado, they reconnect more with God through prayer (which is throughout the film) and enjoy the outdoors and slower pace of life. However, when the lightning strike occurs (and lots of scary things go down) they don't fully address it. It's so weird! It's like their life-changing experience never happened. I definitely don't like the fact that the guy who the story is based on also wrote and directed the movie, because I think he made it too close to real life - it's oddly boring for a true story from the person who experienced it.
I usually never have to give Music a low kernel rating, but oh my goodness, could this music have been any more cliche? Answer: No. It's so over-the-top. It tells you every emotion you're supposed to think on a loud speaker. Brutal.
The fact that this was a true story drew my wife in to rent it for our family. However, as I mentioned in the Morality section, this is a true story told from the lens of the person who experienced it. That was a major no-no. Because, in the end, "The Stray" is one of the most generic true stories I've ever seen. And it didn't have to be. There were multiple times where my wife wondered aloud how I'd make this movie differently, because we both felt it was so bad, and I think I would increase the amount of drama (via a better script, as in rework everything). We never felt what the characters were supposed to be feeling.
The movie is set in the early 90's and they just shouldn't have done that. It totally ruined the filmmaking from a Visual perspective. Because, of course, they couldn't accurately portray everything from the 90's on a limited budget, and they honestly didn't need to shoot this as a timepiece. It is more distracting than believable. Not to mention, with so many exterior/natural light shots their coloring was a mess. The film feels like different cameras/angles/set-ups all the time. The reflected mirror shot in their bedroom will go down in infamy for me. Not to mention the 4-minute outro shot at the end.
I learn nothing at the end about the kids who were involved in this lightning strike. What happened to them? Did the dad ever go to the hospital after being struck by lightning - can I see his scars? Is he okay? I've said it before, and I'll say it again, "The Stray" has absolutely no emotional maturity. It avoids getting deep when it so easily could have been deep and meaningful. A truly missed opportunity for what I'm sure was a life-changing experience for this family.