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SXSW Film Review: ‘The Strange Ones’

Variety logo Variety 3/17/2017 Joe Leydon
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“The Strange Ones” is a ponderously opaque and tediously elliptical drama about two brothers who go on the road and into the wilderness after the violent murder of their father. Except maybe they aren’t brothers after all. And perhaps one of them doesn’t exist. And, quite possibly, the murder didn’t happen the way we’re initially shown it did. And the younger sibling might be somewhere else all the time. And… well, OK, you get the drift. There’s a point beyond which it’s difficult to believe anything that happens on screen, and impossible to care what is supposed to be real or not. Unfortunately, the movie continues for a lengthy stretch after that, until it literally trudges into a deep, dark hole.

James Freedson-Jackson received a special SXSW Film Festival jury award for his “breakthrough performance” as the younger of the two siblings — whose name may be Jeremiah or Sam — and there is something undeniably impressive about the way his enigmatic expression and faraway stare can somehow lend a smidgen of credibility to whatever possible reality the movie suggests for the troubled adolescent at any given moment. Something similar can be said for the older (and hunkier) Alex Pettyfer, who proves sufficiently flexible to handle anything thrown at him by co-directors Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff (who expanded this indie feature from their 2011 short of the same title) while he plays the sexually ambiguous Nick. But the actors’ efforts — and those of supporting player Gene Jones as a character who alternates between fatherly and Fagin-like — come off as earnest contributions to a lost cause.

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