Anil Dhokai’s feature film, The Strange and Unusual, follows the producer, Joel (Tim Ross), of a paranormal-themed reality show as he and his erstwhile crew try to save the show from cancellation with one last, incredible episode. Given a quarter of the normal budget for a series finale, and tasked with filming it over three days instead of six with a minimal crew, Joel sets out to Chester, South Carolina in search of a local legend known as the Abby Devil.
Unlike many a creature that goes bump in the night, the Abby Devil seems to go bump all the time, disrupting the locals and their businesses by being mischievously destructive. The Abby Devil seems disinclined to hurt or threaten anyone, but is doing its fair share of damage to the town, and is easily seen out and about, perfect for capturing on camera. Unfortunately for Joel, the local police are less than enthused with the camera crew in town, and even have suspicions that the increase in Abby Devil activity and the arrival of the crew are related.
The Strange and Unusual tries to give a look behind the reality television curtain, but it ultimately fails to inspire much interest. It’s almost a half hour in before the actual narrative surrounding the final episode begins, everything else being lengthy table setting, and the film doesn’t offer much from there on out to keep your attention. Any twists are predictable or, worse, under-appreciated due to audience apathy that has grown over the course of the film.
The film looks fine enough and doesn’t have many technical shortcomings to note, however. I wouldn’t say that the editing or the pace isn’t tight or consistent either, because they are, but that the overall piece lacks much suspense or drive. Even when you’re on the hunt for the Abby Devil with the crew, you’ve spent so much time spinning your wheels with all the less interesting behind-the-scenes elements (who cares about the production assistants), that it doesn’t save the experience from the malaise that has set in.
Which is fine, in the sense that the filmmakers set out to make a specific type of film, focused primarily on the behind-the-scenes of a reality show, and they stuck to their guns. It just didn’t work for me. The humor wasn’t all that clever, and the concept of making a movie about making a reality show didn’t impress me either; I’ve actually now seen a few movies about making a ghost hunting or paranormal experience reality show, and this one wasn’t the best.
If it has to be done, however, something truly engaging or interesting needs to be brought to the table. The spin this film takes is that it’s less about the paranormal or supernatural side of things, and more about the production element, and thus more about the characters on the crew, but it doesn’t make good on any of its potential. I didn’t really care about anyone in the film, nor did I care about them saving their show. If anything, I understood why it should’ve been cancelled.
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