When Phillip (Nick Robinson) receives a visit from Melissa (Margaret Qualley), the former girlfriend of his late-brother Ronnie, old wounds are re-opened when she claims that his brother is also the father of her unborn child. Since Ronnie’s death was over five years ago, Phillip and his mother, Charlene (Amy Ryan) are rightly enfuriated and hurt by the seemingly ridiculous scenario. Even so, Melissa’s earnestness causes Phillip to begin to question the truth of her claim and sets out on a quest to unravel the truth about her child and, potentially, spiritual realities as well.
Directed by Rowan Athale (The Revolt), Strange But True has a stellar cast and high concept that unfortunately never really settles on what type of film it wants to be. Despite featuring such incredible talents as Blythe Danner, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan and more, the film simply doesn’t come together. Opening with an engaging premise that the unborn child may be that of the long-deceased Ronnie, the film sets itself up as an exploration humanity’s relationship with the unknown. However, as the film progresses, Strange gradually moves away from its more complex themes and settles in as yet another generic thriller.
Without question, the strongest aspect of the film is its interest in grappling with the nature of belief. Guilt-ridden by the death of her lost love, Melissa’s decision to approach Charlene about the child’s potential parentage seems reckless and even unkind. Nevertheless, her claims have a ripple affect within the family, especially within Phillip’s heart. A skeptic himself, the potential of supernatural birth seems absurd to Phillip yet her steadfast belief causes him to question his own understanding of the universe. As he steps out on a journey to understand the spiritual realm, Phillip recognizes that his own personal blinders may be keeping him from understanding something more. In moments such as these, Strange seems to be opening the door for deeper conversations about the space between life and death.
Nevertheless, without offering spoilers, the film is quick to shut the doors on these potentially powerful conversations, opting for the more standard approach that the ‘truth brings pain’. In doing so, Strange tries to balance two conflicting arguments. On the one hand, the film points out that holding belief is an acceptable way of life that can provide hope. However, it also argues that hope in the beyond often serves as a way to merely distract us from the horrors of reality. As a result, Strange attempts to walk the line between hope and horror but struggles to maintain its stability in the process.
Without question, the most frustrating aspect of Strange But True is that it simply feels like a wasted opportunity. Filled with a quality cast of Oscar notables and young talent, Strange has the potential to be something truly special. However, with a meandering script that settles for less, Strange misses the mark and leaves its audience with answers that leave them in the dark.
Strange But True is available on VOD now.