It’s safe to say that the on-the-road/on-the-lam thriller “The Strange Ones” was conceived and filmed in a different time.
We’re a lot more sensitive to hints of an age-inappropriate sexual relationship than we were mere months ago. That’s a key element to “The Strange Ones,” a slow-moving mystery that reveals itself in the tiniest of dollops. You wonder if anybody would have ever put up the money for this, post-Weinstein, post-Spacey.
You wonder if even the most myopic and greedy stage parents would have let their child take a part in it.
There was a fire. Now Nick (Alex Pettyfer of “I Am Number 4”) and Jeremiah (James Freedson-Jackson) are on the run, calling themselves “brothers” even though we suspect, in an instant, that’s not the case.
The kid is haunted by what he’s seen, and reassurances from the adult Nick are no help.
“The things inside your head, they’re only as real was you want them to be.”
The script gives us odd “clues” as to what’s really going on — TV news reports glimpsed, the two “brothers” sleeping in the car, laying low until they have a Volvo breakdown and Nick has to sweet-talk an out-of-the-way motel manager (Emily Althaus) into letting them stay.
The boy mutters “Just go ahead and kill me. I don’t even care where you bury my body,” but Nick has this place in the far-off woods he wants them to go, woodlore (shooting, etc.) he longs to pass on.
The sexual hints are overt — in a shower, in the twin beds of their motel room. But “Jeremiah” isn’t trying to escape from Nick, and the sweet-faced kid has a cruel streak that pops out, here and there. Who’s calling the shots here?
Co-writers/directors Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein treat their script as if it has great secrets, and dole them out so grudgingly that the picture lurches from “When will this get going?” to “Will this EVER get underway?”
More problematic is the film’s attempts at being sexually daring. If Louis C.K.’s now-stillborn movie, with a similarly cavalier attitude towards age (and incestuous) sexual impropriety, and with Kevin Spacey’s career ended and director Bryan Singer’s in mortal peril, what do we do with movies that suggest a boy’s Lolita-ish hold on an older man?
Granted, the New York and LA critics are insisting that “Call Me By My Name,” with a similar sexual mismatch at its heart, is the year’s best picture, grading on some sort of gay pedophile curve.
With all we hear about Woody, with more Roman victims coming forward, with all the heat Spacey took for suggesting, in his “apology,” that he was a gay man and well, somebody’s got to give potentially gay boys their initiation, how do we reconcile films like “Call Me” and “The Strange Ones” with the zeitgeist?
Maybe we shouldn’t. And perhaps this slow and generally dull and opaque picture never should have seen the light of day.
MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing violent images, and brief sexual material
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, James Freedson-Jackson, Emily Althaus, Gene Jones
Credits:Written and directed by Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:21