When Strangers Appear (2001)
Director: Scott Reynolds
Lonesome Beth (Mitchell) manages a deserted diner and a remote hotel in rural Oregon. When a wounded stranger (Watson) bursts into her diner, shite gets complicated. When three more strangers pop up, possibly looking for that first stranger, shite hits the proverbial fan. Who’s the bad stranger here?
I’ve owned a copy of “When Strangers Appear” for a while now, but it never spoke to me. Then I watched "The Ugly" and was totally blown away by Scott Reynolds' directorial debut. When I found out that Strangers was directed by the same madman who put Simple Simon through his evil motions, I quickly dusted off the DVD, kicked all kinds of people out of my pad (yup even the tramps), slapped it into my player and hoped for a gnarly time at the movies. Thank you lord of the blings...because I got it!
"When Strangers Appear", is first and foremost a well-crafted, roller-coaster type, mental toying lobotomy. It messes with your noggin, misleads you constantly and jerks you around in a pleasant, baby oil kind of way. I can’t remember the last time a film made me change my mind so many times in regards to what the hell was going down and who the hell the villain was in the house. I switched sides more times than Mickey Rourke had plastic surgery. The film also sports strong dialogue, creative tension-filled moments, surprising/daring plot turns and a groovy knack of bringing everything full circle in subtle ways.
Visually, Reynolds lives up to his rep. The man still goes from one extreme to another but goes a tad easier on the flash. That gave the flick a unique energy, made the mundane feel threatening and I for one, lapped it all up like a porn star muff diving for coins. I also relished how Reynolds managed to make a spacious setting feel claustrophobic due to the limited location and characters. Even though there was so much vast wasteland around, I always felt like the heroine never had a safe place to run or hide. Now that’s tension!
I do have some qualms with this slick tramp though. First and foremost, the physical conclusion is somewhat mishandled in regards to the main chick. It’s hard to describe without giving anything away, so I won't. I’ll just say: bypassing plausibility to bring in a more “artsy” flavor isn’t always the right path to take. I also would’ve liked more emphasis on the “rape” angle. I mean, they put it out there but never satisfactorily delve into it enough for its presence to be justified. I also hated that we never got to know the concrete reason behind the mayhem. Ambiguity can work sometimes (like the suitcase in "Pulp Fiction") but in this instance, I found it grating that the flick never fully answered the “why” question. If I’m gonna sit through all this madness while getting my mind screwed with, I want to know the facts behind it.
But when all was said and done, I had a slumber party with this one. The flick sucked me in from frame one and took me on a loop-the-loop ride that kept me guessing. I’m rarely put on shaky ground when it comes to a film but this baby pulled it off. Tag to that slick directing and engaging acting (that Josh Lucas dude rocked the house!) and you get a tasty breakfast. When strangers appear...fun times follow!
The gore is minimal but effective when it hits. We get a bloody wound, a shotgun bullet hit, a stabbing and walls painted red in plasma.
Australian babe Radha Mitchell (Beth) still looks like Charlize Theron and even though her American accent was on and off, her intensity made up for it. Barry Watson (Jack) impressed the shite out of me. Knowing him from crud like "7th Heaven" (I loathe that show) and more crud like “Teaching Mrs. Tingle”, it was a delight to see him come through with this edgy role. Josh Lucas (Peter) made me say “WHO IS THAT GUY?”. The dude’s got charisma up the wazoo and showcased finely tuned acting chops here. Remember that guy; I predict big things for him. Kevin Anderson (Bryce) does what he has to do, threading the fine line between sympathetic and slimy very well.
T & A
Radha Mitchell keeps her top on and Josh Lucas doesn’t lose his pants. Nobody’s happy.
Say what you will about Scott Reynolds, but you can’t deny that the man has a visceral eye. I loved his approach to the visuals here, his attention to details and his canny ability to generate nail-biting suspense. Nice work, daddy-o!
The score fits the bill. Nothing standout though.
I love it when this happens! You view a film you know jack about and it winds up kicking all kinds of ass. Think a mix of Hitchcock, Eric Red and the Coen Brothers and you’ll get a strong idea of the vibe that this obscure Goldshlagger shot puts out. You want action, suspense, mystery, ballsy moves and dark irony? Enter this diner and order the eggs and bacon...you won’t be disappointed. Just remember two things: tip on your way out 2- For every husband that won't eat his wife's pussy, I'll show you a neighbor that will.
This flick was originally titled "Shearer's Breakfast".
This film’s budget was $3 million and it was shot in New Zealand.
Josh Lucas played McDermott in "American Psycho" and Hank in "Session 9". Nice resume.