Running at a lean and mean 82-minutes, The Strange Ones is a thriller that journeys into a dark, seemingly unforgivable space and leaves us there to find our way back into the light. Some moviegoers may turn the other direction at abstract storytelling, but I was hooked from the get go.
Sam (Cop Car’s James Freedson-Jackson) and Nick (Alex Pettyfer) are on an extended road trip to nowhere after a family tragedy, and though both of them are not the gregarious type, their bond is readily apparent. Nick is the adult of the two, so he probably knows a thing or two about life that teenage Sam has yet to experience.
During a pivotal conversation at a diner, Nick, in a matter-of-fact matter, tells Sam that reality can be shaped by one’s mind or perception. Filmmakers Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein draw our immediate attention to a coffee cup which quickly disappears from view. Was the coffee cup even there, or was it simply a figment of Same’s imagination. If you’re looking for literal answers to these questions, a closing of the loop of sorts, then The Strange Ones may be an infuriating experience.
But cinema, as in life, knows no boundaries, and though Radcliff and Wolkstein’s story (which is an expansion of their short film) has its true crime elements, The Strange Ones hangs its hat on the ever evolving unknown. There’s a black cat and dark secluded area (It may be a cave or a cavern – being a city slicker I don’t know what it is!) which ultimately have a deep connection to the two, but thankfully that link is not entirely spelled out for the viewer. In short, The Strange Ones beautifully exists in the participant cinema realm, where viewers are asked to engage with the storyline and come up with their own conclusions (or better yet more questions to ponder).
Alex Pettyfer, slated to be come the next big thing after his lead performance in I Am Number Four, hasn’t reached those “heights,” but maybe that’s an actual benefit if he participants in such interesting, though lesser known, material such as The Strange Ones. It’s a performance that’s definitely grounded in reality, and whether or not you believe Nick’s intentions for Sam are pure, it’s hard to look away from Pettyfer’s magnetic turn.
But The Strange Ones’ success simply doesn’t rest on the complex universe created by the filmmakers or Pettyfer’s innate charisma. Instead, the picture’s crowning achievement comes from Freedson-Jackson. Within moments we can sympathetic to Sam’s situation but also question the youth’s own motivations. Is he a victim of sexual abuse or does he harbor true feelings for Nick? It’s hard to take your eyes off Freedson-Jackson, and his beguiling and surprisingly evocative turn anchors the storyline.
Watching the film it’s easy to see the directors may have been inspired by the ambiguity of Michelangelo Antonio’s L’avventura or even the dark Gothic touches of Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, but thankfully The Strange Ones doesn’t exist as a mere homage to a time gone by. Rather, we are introduced to filmmakers who understand the medium and, while honoring voices of the past, are willing to carve out questions of their own. The Strange Ones is a mystery that, just when you think it’s rounding the corner towards some discernible conclusion, veers off on another intriguing avenue.
The Strange Ones made director John Waters’ Top 10 list, and it’s also one of my best from ’17 (I still haven’t made my personal top 10). It’s existential noir sensibilities are right up my alley, and it’s a movie that, even several weeks after viewing, is hard to forget.
The Strange Ones Review Rating: 4.5 out of 5
For a list of movies to check out this month, take a listen to the latest episode of CinemAddicts:
The Strange Ones, now airing exclusively on DIRECTV Cinema, hits theaters January 5, 2018. If you’ve seen The Strange Ones or are looking forward to seeing it, I’d love to hear your comments!!