In a little mountain town in desperate need of tourists, three friends risk leaving lockdown to enjoy a much-needed escape from their isolated lives. Michael (Ted Evans), Sarah (Madeleine Humphries), and Danny (Colton Eschief Mastro) organize a getaway so they could reconnect with other people, but also disconnect from the online lives so many of us were familiar with throughout 2020. The writer/director of OLD STRANGERS Nick Gregorio takes familiar sci-fi aspects of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but he sets the premise in a COVID-world where everyone exists separately from each other. Isolation and mistrust come as everyday feelings, so once introducing the ‘stranger’ no one seems to accurately react to a new kind of danger. As we learn more about the small cast we have to ask, are the ‘old strangers’ referring to the three humans shacked up in the cabin? Or the gelatinous goo which apparently traveled the entire universe just to invade Danny?
The three friends joke as if no time passed between them, but within the jovial back and forth comes mention of the election, emotional isolation, and relationship troubles due to quarantine. Despite what is happening in the world and their homes, they enjoy each other’s company and the open wilderness. However, not long into their pleasant morning hike, Michael unexpectedly wanders into a strange-looking group of slimy silver blobs. Even though the mountain vacation occurs during ski season, the friends explain away the weird goop as insect nests and ignore the rising level of strangeness. So desperate to be out of isolation everyone finds any excuse possible to ignore warnings of danger. And after the trio returns to their cabin, they discover Danny brought part of the mysterious substance back with him.
While sitting around the campfire or tramping through the woods, the humorous and friendly dialogue seems realistic and natural, but the first sign of trouble also comes with some awkward exchanges and poorly executed exposition. Danny’s condition continues to worsen, but even with working phones and staying fairly close to city limits, no one makes much effort to seek help for Danny’s increasingly worsening appearance. Even after Danny disappears, Michael and Sarah make jokes and find themselves getting easily distracted with their surroundings instead of staying focused on their missing friend. The lack of concern for Danny takes away any kind of urgency or apprehension and in its place creates feelings of annoyance for the lack of story or character development at this portion of the film.
The introduction of the characters with the backdrop of the dark and spooky forest creates a friendly, yet sinister tone, but the weird pacing of the film causes a lot of the tension to dissipate. The whole movie has issues with pacing, which might seem odd considering the feature clocks in at just slightly over an hour long. During the second day at the cabin, Sarah and Michael spend all day looking for Danny, and then quickly recover from their emotions and hours of exhaustion once returning to the cabin. It’s as if the director needed to progress the story from one night to the next, but he did not have a viable transition to progress the story for 24 hours. Further pacing issues arise with a weird space and nature montage, which I assume meant to serve as a visual explanation for the otherworldly occurrences. However, the sequence goes on a bit too long and does not really explain anything.
A low budget with a minimal cast, OLD STRANGERS very well could have been made during the height of the pandemic. Like most horror movies, old friends reconnecting very rarely leads to anything but a disaster, but the familiarity of the set-up is not what muddles this movie. The unnecessary amount of subplots and backstory frequently dominate the film, so when the plot eventually evolves into a game of cat-and-mouse, the viewer does not care because they are so unattached to the main story. Honestly, when constructing a sci-fi flavored cabin-in-the-woods story, more slime and less romantic drama will do wonders for a film.
OLD STRANGERS premieres on Digital January 11th from Gravitas Ventures.
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