The Strange Ones

A road trip movie, of sorts, The Strange Ones follows Nick (Alex Pettyfer) and Sam (James Freedson-Jackson) as they hop from place to place, trying to stay under the radar. Then their car breaks down near a small town, and they hole up in a hotel for a few days, waiting for it to be fixed. The movie then follows them getting to know the people in the town and the complications that crop up because Sam tells everyone Nick is a liar. Nick tries to do damage control from a distance, as the layers of why they are on the lam are revealed.

Most of the movie is excellent, though two scenes, in particular, meander a bit. Sam’s first substantial conversation with Kelly (Emily Althaus), the hotel employee, goes on well past the point of the scene, to where it seems odd she doesn’t sense things are off. The other is when Sam and Sarah (Olivia Wang) are discussing what the cops wanted with her and what she told them about Sam and Nick. While that sounds like relevant information, the heart of the moment is about their classmates and a revelation that comes from what they think about these two friends. The rest is a rehash of information the viewer has already gleaned. These are small issues overall, as the characters are interesting and the last five to six minutes are enthralling.

“…forces the audience to think through everything they saw.”

A twist, reveal, shock or surprise ending can enhance the viewing experience of a movie, especially when it is not only memorable but adds depth to the characters and encapsulates the themes without sacrificing story elements. On the rare occasion, the twist ties everything in the movie together and gives it a purpose that was not evident until the finale. First-time feature-length co-writers and co-directors Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein have crafted a slow burn drama, which forces the audience to think through everything they saw once the conclusion unfolds. The two writers had a clear idea of where they wanted all the characters to wind up at the end, and this translates into well defined and engaging roles. Each person feels fully formed and genuine, which preserves the drama’s authenticity.

Of course, the best-written part in the world wouldn’t feel believable if the acting weren’t up to snuff. Alex Pettyfer, probably best known for starring in the first Magic Mike movie, is remarkable as Nick. That the audience always empathizes and roots for him is a testament to that fact, as Nick is capable of doing awful things. James Freedson-Jackson is equally compelling as the younger half of this unlikely duo. He plays the more insane moments straight-faced and earnest, which helps ground the film and prevents it from ever becoming over the top. Althaus is charming as Kelly, bringing her lively and helpful demeanor to full life. Detective Reynolds becomes a major player in the later half of the movie, and Melanie Nicholls-King is superb as the shrewd cop.

“…a purpose that was not evident until the finale.”

Radcliff and Wolkstein’s directing is simple, with even the more fantastical elements being presented as ordinary. That’s not to imply they employ a point and shoot tactic, as there are lots of long, unbroken taken when the environments envelop our protagonists.  This allows the directors to focus on the emotional core of each scene, and give it room to breathe in a way that is captivating and honest.

The Strange Ones is an elegant drama whose ending becomes poignant and elegiac. Brought to life by stellar acting and engrossing yet straightforward directing, the more the audience discovers, the more hypnotic everything becomes. It is a rewarding, spellbinding watch.

The Stranges Ones (2018) Directed by Christopher Radcliff, Lauren Wolkstein. Written by Christopher Radcliff, Lauren Wolkstein. Starring Alex Pettyfer, James Freedson-Jackson, Emily Althaus, Melanie Nicholls-King, Olivia Wang, Owen Campbell, Marin Ireland.
Grade A-

One response to “The Strange Ones

  1. This film is getting bad reviews, but only because it is challenging. It is a film that works, and is definitely worth seeing by anyone with patience to absorb a slow burn thriller.

    Part of its magic is its ambiguity. I’m not as sure as the reviewer that the film’s twists add up to a single, complete set of definite facts. I think part of the discomfort the film produces for many in the audience is the way it resists any definite interpretation. I’ve seen in many reviews simple factual mistakes that allow the reviewer to complete their interpretation. But the film is more challenging than that. I think it tells a story, but exactly which parts are true are not so firmly established. And yet the feeling, at the end, is less unambiguous: a hard-won, almost impossible-seeming sympathy.

    I think this is an excellent film, with a few blemishes, like a couple brown spots on a very tasty apple. It does not deserve the rough reviews it is getting at all.

    And the performance by James Freedson-Jackson is career making. People in the industry are not going to overlook this one.

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