Cinematic Releases: The Strange Ones (2017) - Reviewed

The Strange Ones is a quiet, slow-moving drama about two brothers, one a teenager (James Freedson-Jackson), the other a little older (Alex Pettyfer), taking a road trip to a cabin in the woods. It seems like they are running from something. Due to the way the film is structured, I cannot discuss any more of the plot without spoiling certain revelations. Sadly, instead of increasing the drama and adding intensity, that very structure works against the film, setting up questions with not very interesting answers. It sucks the drama right out of the story. 

Viewers are thrown into The Strange Ones in medias res. The two are already on the move when the film begins. Leaping into the story without setup is an effective way to keep viewers off-balance and it is used with a reasonable amount of success here. It is immediately clear they are hiding something, both from the way they talk to the strangers they encounter and the way they speak to each other. Something major has occurred in their immediate past. 

Both Freedson-Jackson and Pettyfer are able to create intrigue from not a whole lot. We do not know much about their characters or their relationship, but they were able to make me care enough to find out, for a little while anyway. Pettyfer had an especially difficult task since his character’s motivations are never fully explored. Regardless, they both seem to really understand these people and what they are trying to leave behind. 

There are a couple of potentially interesting sequences, including one in which they stop at a motel staffed by a women who becomes attracted to the Pettyfer character. But they do not really go anywhere because The Strange Ones is a lot less interested in the present and future than it is in teasing out what has happened in the past. Of course, the characters already know what happened, so the only reason to tell things this way is to surprise the viewer. That approach is rarely effective. In this case, when the past is revealed, it does not really add any insight into what we have already seen. 

Co-editors/directors Christopher Radcliff (who also wrote the screenplay) and Lauren Wolkstein use intrigue to create mystery around a story that, once all the pieces are put together, is not really all that mysterious. They drop hints here and there throughout the story so that we know all may not be as it seems. And the two leads are very good at seeming secretive without being impenetrable. But overall, the way The Strange Ones unfolds comes off as cleverness for the sake of being clever. 

Told in a straightforward way, they could have had a better opportunity to take advantage of the emotions inherent in the themes they are exploring. But, instead, they chose to try to add artificial suspense to a story that does not really have much. The performances are solid, but the screenplay feels like a short film stretched out to feature length (which makes sense because The Strange Ones is an adaptation of Radcliff and Wolkstein’s short film of the same name). The story hidden inside The Strange Ones is okay, but the way they have chosen to tell it has produced a film more boring than it should have been.

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-Ben Pivoz