Nominated for best narrative feature at the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival, The Strange Ones is an alluring, albeit inconsistent feature debut for Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff, adapted from a short film they made together in 2011.
In a lot of ways, The Strange Ones very much feels like both a debut and an expansion of a short film. Even at just 81 minutes it feels a bit stretched. So little happens through much of the film until all the ideas come together at once near the end.
Wolkstein and Radcliff definitely have promise as filmmakers. They can find and maintain a strong mood. They clearly have an eye for craft in terms of cinematography and editing. They have the impulse to show instead of tell, which while The Strange Ones doesn't do enough of either, it is the right impulse to have. I'm definitely interested in seeing what they do next and hopefully it will have a bit more meat on the bones.
This is actually a pretty difficult film to write about. There simply isn't enough happening. In trying to be mysterious, it becomes too emotionally distant, making it hard to connect on any level other than an aesthetic one. Because of that, it is even more difficult to recommend to anyone without the most artistic tastes.
What it's about: Two brothers with potentially strange powers [Alex Pettyfer & James Freedson-Jackson] travel across country under mysterious circumstances. When they become separated, the younger of the two begins working on a community farm, trying to start a new life. Their lies and troubled past catch up with them soon enough.
There are slow building films and then there is The Strange Ones. That isn't exactly a bad thing, depending on your environment and level of attention. It'll be a hurdle for many, though.
The film opens in media res in an unsettling sort of way. With the general pace and lack of exposition, it starts you off without much of a handle.
Both Wlkstein and Radcliff have extensive work as editors [mostly of their shorts] and it shows. The last act of the film, when it begins unlocking some of the mysteries, it does so almost entirely through its editing.
Like an exceptional thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Strange Ones confidently cuts to scenes where the place in time is not immediately known.
I've never really liked Alex Pettyfer, but he actually works a bit better as the hardened tough guy than the young heartthrob. Perhaps as he gets older he'll find more roles that work more naturally for him.