The dangers of COVID have wrought havoc on many people’s mental health. Folks who have been cooped up for so long inside and doing their best to remain safe and healthy are striving to find some form of solace; so, it would make sense if a group of friends planned a secluded get together out in nature. Michael (Ted Evans), Sarah (Madeleine Humphries), and Danny (Colton Eschief Mastro) do just that. After making sure their test results are negative, they all make their way to a cabin for a time away from reality.
Written and directed by Nick Gregorio, Old Strangers never comes out and bluntly says the words “COVID,” but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together when our characters are wearing masks and talking about “Quarantine life.” Establishing a reality we can relate to brings a surreal immersion to the film, providing a means for the audience to connect with the characters. The relationship between the friends is endearing – the three have not seen each other for a while, and the joy they express in finally being together and talking in person is cute. That said, when the three go on a hike, they come across an alien-like plant that infects one of them, introducing a new nightmare into their lives that will test their friendship.
This is a relatively short film, clocking in just a little under an hour. Given that timespan, Old Strangers displays great use in pacing, getting audiences interested in the characters just enough before shifting into the more suspense-driven portion of the narrative. After the one friend becomes infected by the plant, his mood shifts drastically, his behavior growing odder as time passes. Whereas we meet a group of friends that are adorable and warm with each other, a rift begins to take shape within the group due to the infected friend. This creates a lot of tension in wondering how much further the individual will become in their aggressive behavior, while further prompting the question of what that plant even is.
The afflicted friend’s behavior is explained away at first given the personal struggles they have endured during quarantine life. This is a great tactic to not only throw off the other characters from expecting anything greater that may be wrong with the friend, but it also provides a (relative) relatability for that of the audience. But as details begin to come together, the story never explicitly says why said things are happening – it’s more so up to the audience to piece together visual clues. A longer movie could have allowed for interesting concepts to be expanded upon, but in what Old Strangers offers – there’s a great deal of mystique to prolong interest and curiosity.
One of the best pieces of advice for any story is “Show, don’t tell,” and it’s awesome to see what Old Strangers offers in doing just that. While some viewers may be itching to know more details regarding some sci-fi concepts, there is a neat intrigue in a film only allowing you to know so much. A likeable cast pulls us into a decently relatable scenario where we can empathize with the characters, their dynamic becoming more stressed as their situation worsens. Though brief, Old Strangers hits the nail on the head in delivering an engaging story with palpable tension and unease.
Old Strangers is now available on VOD outlets.