Neo-Noir Thriller that cuts close to home in 2019…
This weekend, Lionsgate and CBS Films will be releasing Strange But True, the Rowan Athale adaptation of John Searles’ 2004 bestselling coming-of-age thriller novel. Although Athale is but an up-and-coming director, his short filmography has merit and the film touts an impressive cast including Nick Ryan, Margaret Qualley, Amy Ryan, and Greg Kinnear amongst others. While Amy Ryan and Greg Kinnear are the film’s best known veteran actors at this point, each having an academy award nomination under their belts, it is the young Nick Ryan and Margaret Qualley who play the main characters, and thus will have to carry most of the story’s emotional weight.
Luckily, the two rising stars have already proven themselves as talented and recognizable through recent hit movies like “Love Simon” and “Jurassic World” for Ryan, and “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” for Qualley.
British Helmer Athale sets unique tone
The cast is promising, but what really makes “Strange But True” stand out is its cross-genre energy and unique tone. Like Searles’ source material, the trailer presents the film as a generic blend of horror, teen movie, and family drama. It suggests that fantastical elements such as Immaculate Conception and spiritual entities will play a role in the plot, but also grounded concepts such as rape and murder. At the same time, though, it all seems somewhat disguised in a teenage love story and a heartbreaking tale about loss.
Essentially, the complex plot seems to boil down to this: on prom night, a couple gets into a car accident and the boy dies; five years later, the girl shows up at the boy’s house; she is pregnant with what she claims is the boy’s child, and the family must dissect whether this is some miraculous truth or if there is a more disturbing form of deceit at hand.
Indie Cred and looking at Lies Vs. Truth
Needless to say, “Strange But True” is not the kind of straightforward blockbuster narrative that will rake in hundreds of millions of dollars, but it is understandably not trying to be. With limited marketing and a shared release date with “IT: Chapter Two”, “Strange But True” comes across as completely aware of its indie status.
In a way, the film is a thriller, but unlike “IT” or other conventional horror flicks, it does not seem like “Strange But True” will rely on monsters or jump scares, but rather on mystery, psychological twists, and a touch of social commentary.
Perhaps call it a neo-noir picture, with a layered and labyrinth-like structure that keeps viewers and characters alike wondering what is real and what is fabricated. As evident from the title alone, truth vs. untruth will be one of the film’s major themes.
The tagline on the film’s promotional poster reads “some things are impossible to conceive” and in the trailer, the words “the only thing stranger than the mystery is the truth” flash across the screen before one of the characters’ voice overs asks, “if we knew the whole truth, would we be less afraid, or more?”
Whether intentional or not, given current trends in media and politics, the movie’s focus on truth verses lies may serve as some kind of latent social commentary. Thrillers and noir films have a long history of reflecting socio-cultural trends in America, and “Strange But True” may be an interesting addition to that pattern.
Rather than creating a blatant political drama, by using the power of suburbia and family mixed a hint of fantasy the film tells a story that is timely and subtly relevant in a quasi-political sense.
Of course, all of this is just speculation for now. After all, a good mystery movie can only give away so much from its marketing. Actually seeing the movie is the only way that viewers will really be able to tell what kind of message and story Strange But True is trying to relay.
But from where we currently stand, just on the brink of knowing the actual truth, it seems like that there will be many different ways to watch and interpret Strange But True, and hopefully each way will meet expectations and deliver for a film that certainly seems unconventional, but appealing nonetheless. Strange, but somehow… intriguing.
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