A thought provoking piece of cinema by co-directors Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff, The Strange Ones sheds a veil over matters of truth and trauma, presenting a subjective reality that keeps you guessing throughout the film’s 80 minute run. Initiated as a short and years later coming together as a full length feature, we are introduced to brothers Nick (Alex Pettyfer) and Sam (James Freedson-Jackson), embarking on what appears to be a trip with no end in sight, away from familiar surroundings. Sam suffers from unwanted thoughts constantly picking at his brain, with Nick’s advice being to let go and forget everything that happened prior to the here and now. As their relationship unravels and chance encounters with various characters present themselves, Sam is forced to reconcile with what occurred back at home and secrets slowly start to reveal themselves.
Winning SXSW’s Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance, James Freedson-Jackson’s role as Sam is remarkable as he plays precocious and quick-witted Sam, his distant stare and fixed demeanor never waning. Often appearing lost in thought, he also manages to shock by stating to one woman working at a cabin that they’re residing at for the night that his brother is a lunatic and a dangerous man, all cited in a monotonous tone. The only time we see him break down is after he hears that Nick has been killed, inducing a quick break to the restroom to shed his tears, only to quickly wipe his face and disassociate from his emotions. Flashbacks are instilled within The Strange Ones, a quick vision of blood, a body on the floor and a recurring black cat that appears in his past as well as throughout the film. Symbolic of the pieces of the young boy’s childhood that he’s clinging onto (one man he encounters instantly recognizes him as an animal lover), the animal serves as a continual reminder of Sam’s past and the trauma that comes along with it. Towards the second half of the movie, the audience recognizes that Nick is not actually his brother, but perhaps a lover, as Sam is confronted with thoughts of guilt and shame in acknowledging his sexual identity. Also seen in a metaphorical sense, Nick symbolizes a blanket of safety for Sam, reassuring him that it’s okay to pretend the past didn’t happen until Nick is no longer in the picture and Sam is forced to confront his truth. Although the film’s performances are stellar, the dialogue occasionally leaves much to be desired with its forced speech and blatant hints to the audience regarding the lies that are constantly presenting themselves. Regardless, Wolkstein and Radcliff’s feature is an impressive feat that leaves its viewers pondering on more questions than answers. Sam’s entrance into the cave at the film’s conclusion leaves his future up to interpretation; whether he enters the cave as Nick did when he was Sam’s age as a means of transformation and exiting the other side as a different person, or whether his entrance inside the cave represents a safe womb to take shelter away from his tragedy and trauma is up to the audience to decide.
Trish Connelly is the Austin-based guru who does booking and promoting at Cheer Up Charlies under The Nothing Song. She’s always down to collaborate and plan a show or event in town. She’s an expert with mixtapes (for all musicians out there you’ll want to send her your stuff!), and making connections with the cool kids. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.