“Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?”
Judging by the movies they probably are best forgotten. How many films have we seen where catching up with old friends ends badly? You can add Old Strangers from writer-director Nick Gregorio (Happy Birthday, Harris Malden) to that list as well.
An SUV speeds up the highway around Big Bear California. We know it’s Big Bear because, while we never hear any music, we keep hearing the DJ Midday Mike (Andy Riesmeyer) giving the station’s call letters and talking about how the town’s economy is suffering due to lockdown. That lockdown must have been eased through as three old friends Sarah (Madeleine Humphries,10000 Hours), Michael (Ted Evans, The Naked Director) and Danny (Colton Eschief Mastro) are getting together for the weekend.
They’ve barely gotten past saying how much they missed each other when the camera goes off into the woods and ominous music blares out on the soundtrack. It’s no surprise when they come across a bunch of gooey shapes in the woods the next day. Danny, ignoring the other two’s advice to stay away from them, gets stung by one. Michael can’t help telling him “If this is a horror movie, you’re dying first.”
Well, Old Strangers is a horror movie, albeit one with a sci-fi edge to it, But before Danny can die, an injured stranger turns up at their cabin begging for help before turning violent and taking off into the night.
Old Strangers runs short for a feature, clocking in at an hour and two minutes including credits. This means things move at a reasonably fast pace. All of this, plus the revelation that where Danny got stung is looking very diseased or infected, happens in the first twenty minutes. And that’s a refreshing pace after so many films where the first act is all talk.
Unfortunately, Old Strangers hits a speed bump right after that which slows things down greatly while two of the characters wander around in the woods for ten long minutes. If this, and all the shots of dark woods, the rising moon, etc. were cut. Old Strangers would probably run about forty to forty-five minutes, so I can see why Gregorio padded it out, but he could have at least used some more creative padding.
Actually, Old Strangers could have used a bit more creativity period. It tells its story well enough, but I could pretty much see the developments coming. The strange behaviour, characters vanishing and reappearing, the possible rational explanations for the strange behaviour, flaring tempers, etc. It’s not boring, but it is very familiar.
While there’s almost nothing in the way of gore effects, there are some well-done shots of an asteroid travelling through space. Along with the nature shots, several of which are done using tilt-shift photography to make real places look like miniatures, it seems as much a cinematographer or VFX crew’s showreel as a narrative film. The score by Zane Guidon is also excellent with an early Nine Inch Nails feel to it at times. It’s an unexpected treat from someone whose only other feature credit is Episode 50, one of the worst found footage films I’ve ever suffered through.
In the end, Old Strangers is another Invasion of the Body Snatchers type film and while not as good as Abel Ferrara’s 1993 version, or even the more recent Assimilate, it isn’t the worst version I’ve seen either. If Gregorio had used all the time spent on padding to give us a bit more insight into the trio of characters this could have been good instead of just watchable. Because you can’t really be disturbed by strange behaviour unless you know the character well enough to recognize it, waiting to be told it takes away from the impact especially in a film with this short of a running time.