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Stray [Wanjiru Njendu, USA, 2020]

Stray by Wanjiru Njendu traverses between the real and the surreal, confronting the socially problematic issue of the disappearance of black girls. Njendu explains, “Stray addresses the ongoing issue of missing black girls who are snatched and disappear with no trace or mass media coverage… faceless men and women who pull our children off the streets.” The film takes off from the point where the popular children’s story The Pied Piper of Hamelin ends. The anxious mother, who has just read out this scary bedtime story, puts a pair of headphones on her young daughter to keep the sounds away – the sounds that may lure the child away into the darkness. But is she able to protect her child? Will her worst nightmare become reality?

Good performances by Peres Owino as the mother, and Trinity Moriah Jones as the daughter, Aneesa, help this three-minute short film deliver its message. Costume and set design build the atmosphere well. The transition from the ‘normal’ home bedroom to the street, where a grotesque faceless truck driver is out to kidnap children, is done quite well. Music being an important part of the script, there was scope for it to be more experimental and push the boundary more.

The cinematography is good, given that these are night scenes where lighting is always a challenge, and DOP, Bongani Mlambo, has done a decent job. The editing is spot on too. Overall, Stray is a good effort, but the strong social message that the film wants to convey gets a bit lost in its surrealist and horror elements.


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