When a young teenage boy and his older brother are on the run to escape to a cabin in the woods, memories, reality, and fantasy blur together into a haze of chaos and confusion. The Strange Ones, written and directed by Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff, is part disturbing-thriller, part bizarre drama, but takes a series of nauseatingly complicated turns in the life of a youth. On the surface, it seems a normal trip for the two young men, but when the layers are peeled away, a true horror is revealed. (LMB: 2.5/5)
Review by FF2 Contributing Editor Lindsy M. Bissonnette
Young “Jeremiah,” (James Freedson-Jackson), is on the run with his older brother, “Nick” (Alex Pettyfer). We don’t know from what or from whom, but we know that they are running and not looking back. From seedy diner to diner --for meals and cups of coffee-- to going from grimy gas station bathroom to bathroom for a quick wash, Jeremiah and Nick only stop to sleep.
In Jeremiah’s hellish nightmares we see chaotic flames and the memory of something terrible and gory. However, the dreams are never quite in focus and always end in Jeremiah jolting awake, covered in sweat and unable to get back to sleep. Something terrible is haunting this young boy.
Through a series of choppy scenes of the duo on the road and some painfully strained dialogue, the two stop at a motel where Jeremiah is drawn to the pool, and Nick is drawn to “Kelly” (Emily Althaus), who works the front desk and lets them stay for free. Once out of the car, Jeremiah jumps into the water and, under the surface, stares at the way the world looks through the watery lens. He relishes the few moments of quiet as he hides at the bottom of the pool for as long as his lungs will allow.
Eventually the two boys make it to a cabin the woods, after some violence between the them, and they become quiet and sullen. While swimming in the river, Jeremiah notices something on the other side of the bank, but when Nick asks what he sees, Jeremiah doesn’t give an answer. The film then takes a drastic turn before tumbling through a series of abrupt plot twists when Nick is shot by a ranger and Jeremiah runs for his life.
The forest trees turn into tall grass and open land as Jeremiah finds himself on a farm. Completely exhausted, he collapses. Two boys find him in a barn, dehydrated and hungry, and bring “Gary” (Gene Jones), the owner of the farm, to come and see him. Gary, thankfully brings water and help and seems to be the first truly kind person in Jeremiah’s life. Eventually, we learn that Jeremiah’s name is really “Sam,” but that’s not the only revelation. The unfortunate twists and turns of this film are only just beginning.
Through eerie images of slain bucks, young does trapped behind gates, slinky black cats, and raging fire, The Strange Ones plows through the remainder of the film with multiple confusing twists and turns.
Writer/directors Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff have created something potentially dark and mysterious with The Strange Ones, but unfortunately, the plot heavily relies on the paranoia of Sam and Nick and the cryptic circumstances surrounding their relationship and their past, which is disjointedly revealed. I won’t give too much more, as the remaining plot of the film feels like multiple endings. While I found the film creative and intriguing, the multiple lulls, unnatural dialogue, and drastic tonal shifts make the plot difficult to follow and the characters difficult to relate to.
© Lindsy M. Bissonnette (1/19/18) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Nick’s unblinking stare haunts young Sam.
Middle Photo: The poster for The Strange Ones.
Bottom Photo: Sam and Nick listen to music at the hotel by the pool.
Photo Credits: Vertical Entertainment
Q: Does The Strange Ones pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
There are very very few scenes that involve women at all, and there is not a scene that makes this scene pass.
The Strange Ones has a fascinating beginning scene: Sam slowly walks down a dark, shadowy hallway which opens into an oddly lit room. The strange scene continues as Sam stares at an unidentified object on the floor. The scene goes hazy, but definitely grabs your attention. I waited for the revelation of what this scene was about, as Sam continuously comes back to this exact moment, each time remembering another specific detail, but the film takes so many twists and turns, it became difficult to hold onto the plot, and I found myself lost in the extraneous details, almost as if the creators had set up “traps” to trick the audience.
What’s going on in this first scene isn’t explicitly revealed for some time, which left me confused, since it seemed like such an important moment, but the most frustrating aspect of the film is that it constantly goes into excruciating detail without much explanation. Ideas, metaphors, and images are constantly introduced, later on reintroduced, and then abandoned.
For instance, there is a lot of imagery of wildlife. A photograph of Nick’s father next to a dead buck, Sam staring sadly into a gated area with many wild doe, a dead buck in the middle of the road that Sam and Nick almost hit, a doe stares blindly into a light; all of this imagery alludes to the idea of Nick as a buck and Sam as a doe, which leads one to believe that they are somehow on the same level and compatible, which becomes increasingly more disturbing when the audience learns that Nick and Sam are having sex, despite Sam’s young age. But just like all of the imagery suggests, Nick ends up dead, like every other buck in the film, and Sam remains lost, a deer in then headlights.
There’s also a lot of imagery of a black cat: Sam has a black cat as a pet, which he is forced to leave at home when he and Nick go on the road. Yet, somehow, the black cat ends at the cabin in the woods with them, despite a scene showing Nick forcing Sam to leave the cat behind at his house. The cat makes another appearance as it slinks through the woods, and as Sam chases after it, he’s suddenly, and violently, hit by a car. Perhaps this black cat is a symbol for death, as it appears after Sam’s father has been killed, the night before Nick’s death, and moments before Sam is hit.
While talking about the film, I began to think of Sam as a metaphor for death, a black cat himself. As we talked about the film, I began to realize that the film “ended” about eight times, and each time there was a moment when it seemed as though there was a possibility that Sam could have died--including specific imagery or cinematic tricks to make it seem so. This sent me down the rabbit hole of, what if Sam were a cat living through his nine lives, and The Strange Ones was taking us through the strange lives? A bit contrived, but it checks out: his first death would be from his abusive father (which chronologically would occur first, though in the film isn’t revealed until later), his second death would be when he leaves his home in flames and decides to run away with Nick (when Sam leaves his own black cat behind), his third death would happen in the pool, when Sam jumps in and stares at the tiles at the bottom for what seems too long, fourth death would occur before he leaves the motel, when Nick hits him (dying at the hand of his lover), fifth death would be in the forest when the rangers come (as they kill Nick, they would kill Sam), sixth death is at the farm when he is found in the barn, seventh death would be when he is hit by the car, eighth death would be his return to the farm when he follows the black cat into the woods and enters the cave –where Nick died—leaving him on his ninth and final life).
While that last idea was a bit contrived, the film, if nothing else, does make you think, and encourages the audience to continue down the rabbit hole!