The Strange Ones premiered at this year’s SXSW. The psychological thriller, dark and foreboding, introduces an abundance of newcomer talent in addition to showcasing some familiar faces. Marking the feature film directorial debut of filmmakers, Christopher Radcliffe and Lauren Wolkstein, the duo bring an interesting point of view with their ability to weave stories together in the script and on screen. They deliver a highly suspenseful, dark and enthralling thriller mystery curated by their poised direction.
The film stars James Freedson-Jackson who was awarded a Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Performance at SXSW. James tackles an emotionally complex roll as Sam, a young boy who has just experienced unimaginable trauma. He escapes into the wilderness alongside a mysterious, brooding Nick (played by Alex Pettyfer).
The story unfolds through the innocent yet jaded eyes of Sam – the audience does not know what exactly happened, only that Sam is trying to pick up the pieces. Nick is a presence who is menacing but charming, seductive but dark, and all the while shows his vulnerability.
I caught up with writer-director Lauren Wolkstein for a quick chat recently to talk about the challenges of adapting a short story into a feature-length film and how she managed to maintain the mystery and thrill of the original short.
You made the short in 2011, when did you realize you could turn this into a feature?
Christopher and I made this in 2011, as you say, and the whole time that we were making this short, we had this whole backstory about what happens before the plot of the short and after it ends. It was all background information we used to develop the short.
It’s a different version of the motel sequence. Through the clerk’s perspective, we see these two strangers come to the motel for the first time and she doesn’t know who they are. It’s the scene where James says who his brother really is. After everyone had seen the short, people were asking us what happens and they wanted to see more and that’s when Chris and I decided to expand it.
We started working on developing this further. The biggest challenge was the short had this very contained mystery that raised one question at the end of the sequence. Our challenge was to maintain that mystery and get people engaged and to delve deeper without getting lost. So, it was knowing when to raise questions and when to answer them.
What was the shooting process for you?
It was too fast. I wish we had more time. We had twenty days of shooting on a low budget. There were a lot of location moves and felt rushed at times, and didn’t have that full budget. It’s hard to make a film on a low budget and maintain that tension without making it feel like it was low budget. Having said that, it was a dream to work with James and Alex on set. James is actually a really happy guy which is so different to who he is in the film. When we weren’t shooting he made it fun to be on set because the story is really quite dark.
The film is this road trip through these landscapes and we really took those trips along with the characters.
Where do you draw the line with pushing the audience?
Part of the challenge was knowing what to show the audience and what not to show. How do you maintain that mystery and let the audience figure it out? The challenge was how much do we show, and if we show too much does that take away from the experience?
Chris and I were saying each time we write a scene there should be dual interpretations of a scene. Is the brother the protector or is he dangerous? That was what was really exciting for us to hold back and let it be nuanced to create the underlying tension.