Review | The Strange Ones

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: January 8, 2018 (Last updated: January 18, 2024)
The Strange Ones - Movie Review

The Strange Ones

Director Christopher Radcliff, Lauren Wolkstein
Writer(s) Christopher Radcliff
Rating R
Release Date January 5, 2018

What’s this?

As the title suggests, it’s very strange.

From the filmmaking team of Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein, The Strange Ones is a puzzle of a film. You can solve it – either immediately or gradually. But you get the sense, sometimes, that every aspect of it is designed not to fit together quite right. It’s dreamlike in its construction and presentation; eerie and still, wide and sweeping. I don’t know how literally you’re supposed to take it. Perhaps nobody does.

What’s it about?

Sam (James Freedson-Jackson) has somehow ended up in the passenger seat of a car driven by Nick (Alex Pettyfer). That much, at least, you can figure out for yourself. Sam’s a teenager; slack-jawed not with awe or idiocy, but a kind of meanness – an anger, a frustration. Nick’s a rugged twenty-something; handsome and charismatic, but vaguely sinister.

These two, they’re driving. Away from something? Towards something? That’s all part of the mystery. But the mystery in this film is an odd, nebulous thing, nakedly telegraphed early on but not properly explained until the end. It’s all in pieces, to be turned over and rearranged by the audience. More than one composition works, in the traditional sense. You can decide which you like the best.

So it’s ambiguous?

The story is told nonlinearly, but the through-line is clear enough. It’s just that everything seems slightly off-kilter. From the start, it’s clear that the leads, who present themselves as brothers, have an uneasy, unnatural relationship. The environment they navigate is familiar, but eerily depopulated. Beautiful, too, in the way that dying things sometimes are.

I can’t tell you what it all means – not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t know. I imagine that’s the point. The Strange Ones is tight-lipped about its reasons for being. But for once it doesn’t seem like the reason is simply to make money. There’s art here, undeniably. Often off-putting, flawed art, for sure, but art nonetheless. And without pretension. For once I appreciated the strange angles, the natural beauty harshly undercut by visceral, upsetting imagery. Shit, even the unusual stylistic touches; the addition of surreal details that remain unexplained.

But did you like the film?

It’s difficult to say. I admire a lot of what it attempts to accomplish, even if it isn’t entirely successful. I certainly felt something while watching it – a chill that settled across my shoulders and the back of my neck; a stirring that wound up into my stomach and coiled there like a reptile. I don’t know if that’s to the film’s credit or its detriment. But atmosphere is a powerful thing. It can root you to the spot for long enough that the work’s questing tendrils snake around your mind’s, each trying to figure the other out.

Both lead actors are sometimes disturbing and sometimes heartbreaking. Freedman-Jackson, in particular, delivers one of the great young performances in recent years. But are they characters? I couldn’t say. Even now, having watched the open-ended story meander into something resembling a conclusion, I can’t say I possess any specific insight about them as people; their psyches, their desires, their traumas, their lives before the one that was written for them. That might be the point. But if it is, you have to wonder why.

How are the supporting actors in The Strange Ones?

Less noteworthy, but then again the film asks less of them. Emily Althaus, from Orange is the New Black, plays a motel manager. Gene Jones plays an older man who runs a work camp for delinquent boys. The leads – again, particularly Freedson-Jackson – have an easy rapport with them. There’s probably a film to be made about every combination. That’s the greatest strength of The Strange Ones – for all its faults, you feel as though it could go on forever, in any direction.


Unsettling and unusual, but predictable and thin, The Strange Ones is worth watching mostly because it suggests the possibility of a fine filmmaking career. But it lingers, too, for whatever reason. It runs less than 90 minutes; as lean as a feature film gets. I hope the next one is longer.

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