First-time feature filmmakers Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein have adapted their short film of the same name with The Strange Ones, which had its world premiere at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival where it received Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Performance for young James Freedson-Jackson.
The film, a strange one indeed, follows the mysterious events that occur around two travelers, Nick (Alex Pettyfer, Magic Mike) and Sam (Freedson-Jackson, Jessica Jones), whose relationship is never quite clear for the vast majority of the film. While much of the early goings on in The Strange Ones seems normal, if maybe a little off-kilter, as the journey progresses what initially seems like a simple vacation gives way to a far darker and more complex web of secrets.
Because a good majority of The Strange Ones centers around Nick and Sam, the performances from Pettyfer and Freedson-Jackson are integral to the film's success. This is particularly true of Freedson-Jackson, whose youthfulness can't hide the fact that this experienced actor delivers the goods time and time again in The Strange Ones.
The Strange Ones is a quiet, reflective film. It's a difficult film to describe without giving away pieces of the journey, something that I'm not about to do as it's a compelling journey that rewards those who are patient enough to hold fast to the film. Indeed, this is a film that does require patience and it's also the kind of film best watched without distractions. There are some films you can sit down and watch while folding laundry - this ain't one of 'em.
If you only know Alex Pettyfer from his work in Magic Mike, you may be surprised (I was!) to realize that he's actually a terrific actor with a vacillating stoicism as Nick that shifts in mood and tone throughout the film. While there's not a tremendous emotional range required here, The Strange Ones actually requires a tremendously disciplined performance from Pettyfer as he has to draw us in without giving everything away. He does so with quiet, whispery movements and body language that say much even when he's not speaking a word.
In a very different way, the same is true for James Freedson-Jackson, whose characters may very well exist more within the quiet than he does actually communicating. Freedson-Jackson's mesmerizing stare is caught somewhere in the landscape between haunting vulnerability and something that feels almost intangibly dark.
Among the supporting players, Emily Althaus (Orange is the New Black) deserves major kudos for the ways in which she seemingly serves as a bridge in the film as Kelly, a young woman who, perhaps misguidedly, allows Nick and Sam to stay at her motel for free since it's the offseason for the place.
The Strange Ones is a film where even the quiet moments matter and each decision somehow ties into everything else that unfolds. Lensing by Todd Banhazl quietly simmers with slow, lingering shots that seemingly envelope you, while Danica Pantic's production design lends the film a sort of uneasy comfort that feels trustworthy until it doesn't.
While low-budget indies are hard-pressed to attract attention during awards season, kudos to the folks at Vertical Entertainment for giving the film a solid awards season push. While the film occasionally does lag a bit, The Strange Ones is one of 2017's indie gems.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic