Old Strangers (2022) – a feature film review by Andrew Buckner
Old Strangers (2022), from writer/director/ executive producer Nick Gregorio, is a timely commentary on the underlying fear derived from unexpected contact. It is one which is compellingly woven in the form of an engaging and effective environmental horror film. Benefitting from numerous yet never exploitive allusions to and explicit mentions of the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, the project is as efficient as possible at a mere sixty-one minutes in length. In a move much in line with the phobia at its core, the picture also smartly keeps the shadowy terror at the heart of the endeavor unknown and unexplained. This leaves much to the imagination throughout the entirety of the venture. The minimal, though impressive, effects from Isaac Pajo-Bickley which are utilized in the attempt help prove that this traditional storytelling device is still tremendously successful.
The plot can be described as simply as three friends reconnecting after quarantine who discover something sinister during a hike in the woods. Though the material sounds overly familiar, Gregorio makes the narrative soar with a tremendous balance of satisfying character development and ever-accruing unease. The strength of this aspect is noteworthy even during the standard service, yet still enjoyable, fifteen-minute finale. Gregorio also instills an ominous, uncomfortable, unwavering atmosphere that is established almost immediately in the creation. The superb original music and sound effects from Triune Digital, which are occasionally reminiscent of those heard in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) from director Tobe Hooper, make this tone increasingly powerful.
Moreover, everyone in the small cast offers natural, likable performances. Though the central figures have a conventional edge, the force of this attribute greatly overwhelms such slight faults. For example, Ted Evans is terrific in his often-comedic turn as Michael Stalworth. His various pop culture references in the first half of the excursion, particularly those concerning Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, pepper the otherwise no-nonsense ambiance of the fabrication with amusing bits of flavor. Continually, Madeleine Humphries is magnificent as Sarah Baxter. Colton Eschief Mastro fares just as well as Danny Turner. Andy Riesmeyer is excellent as the voice of DJ Midday Mike.
The color cinematography from Blake Gaytan is stellar and moody. It takes full advantage of the inherent allure and sense of isolation stemming from its arboreous setting. Likewise, the editing from Gregorio and Andrew Marion is proficient. These elements are singular proof of the visually and technically spectacular angles of the affair.
Gregorio also guides the construction with a masterful hand. He employs several quietly stylish flourishes which are welcome and eye-popping. Regardless, they don’t distract from the immersive qualities of what is being portrayed on-screen. These traits match the sheer competence of his sharply penned screenplay. The contents of which crackle with credible dialogue, a confident pace, and socially relevant and relatable themes.
Recorded in Big Bear, California, U.S.A, Old Strangers has a passing resemblance in subject matter, ideology, and in its general account description to such classic science-fiction movies as The Day of the Triffids (1963), which was directed by Steve Sekeley and adapted from the 1951 novel of the same name by John Wyndham, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The latter of which was directed by Don Siegel and based upon the initially serialized in 1954 novel by Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers. Nevertheless, the latest cinematic output from Gregorio feels fresh, modern, and wholly its own. Sporting fantastic makeup by Kaitlyn Matlock and all-around solid camera work, the enterprise sings with subtly, meaning, and high entertainment value. Combined with some stunning celestial images in the last act and a grounded approach, this is a wonderfully executed outing which ponders the trepidation that lingers just outside our consciousness.
Rating: **** out of *****