“‘There’s this character, the dark stranger, and it’s like he created himself to lead me.’ ‘Where is he leading you?’ ‘I don’t know, but it’s gotta be better than here.'”

The Dark Stranger, directed by Chris Trebilcock, was uneven at best in terms of writing and acting, but totally won me over with it’s solid GU plot, creative incorporation of comic art, and a huge emphasis on The Power of Story.

Leah is a teenager struggling with mental illness, whose own mother was similarly tormented and committed suicide. She also inherited her mother’s artistic talent (well, we presume – her mother’s paintings in the movie are strangely childish and amateur looking for a supposedly great artist, though Leah’s own graphic novel style is portrayed much better).

After some of her own blood accidentally mixes into her ink, Leah begins falling into fits where she draws an ongoing story without being aware of what she is doing. This story-within-a-story (one of my favorite devices!) is basically a mythologized version of her life, which turns out to be closer to reality than she realizes at first. In it, a shadowy man comes to take the protagonist away to an underground world (which is also a carnival!); this man starts appearing to Leah in her everyday life as well. Blood appears to link them, and as she continues to make art with it, he begins manifesting physically and murdering her allies. But Leah can find clues to what is happening and how to defeat him within the story she is unconsciously creating.

After meeting a man who serves as guide and advisor (and who reveals a long history behind the current events, which connects Leah to her mother’s struggles as well as many other “insane” artists), Leah and her companions are pulled into the otherworld (visualized as if the comic had come to life, which was well done) by the dark stranger. He kidnaps her companions in order to force Leah to finish the story by killing herself. But she claims her own power and volition instead, and writes her own victory.