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EIFF2019: Strange But True review

Based on the novel by John Searles, Strange But True, the latest film from British filmmaker Rowan Athale makes its World Premiere at EIFF this week. This murky and mysterious thriller playfully toys with the conventions of Film-Noir, and delivers a hugely satisfying result. Featuring a tremendous ensemble cast, and a twist so dark your jaw will hit the floor, Strange But True is definitely a film to add to your watch-list.

The film begins ominously, with Philip (Nick Robinson) being chased through the woods by an unseen pursuer. The action then flashes back to two-days earlier, and Philip is staying home with his mother Charlene (Amy Ryan) after recently breaking his leg. They are visited out of the blue by Melissa (Margaret Qualley), the ex-girlfriend of Philip’s older brother Ronnie, who tragically died 5 years ago. Melissa is 8-months pregnant, and she claims that the father is Ronnie.

After the initial shock and anger from the announcement wears off, this “strange miracle” as Melissa calls it, sends Philip and Charlene on separate investigations to try and find out exactly what is going on. Charlene looks into the science of Melissa’s claim, whereas Philip keeps an open mind and looks to the past for answers.

One of my favourite experiences when watching a film is when I have no idea where the plot is taking me, or what is going to happen next. For the first half of Strange But True that is exactly how I felt. This unsettling and unpredictable mystery had me absolutely gripped. I genuinely had no idea as to what direction Athale was going to take the story, and that is a great feeling.

The plot branches off, expanding in different directions, but never loses focus. This is a tightly wound thriller, and not a single scene is wasted. Eric Garcia’s script does an excellent job in adapting a 300-page novel into a lean 96-minutes, and every character is richly drawn. This is of course helped by having an incredible cast all doing terrific work. Amy Ryan as always is superb, consumed by grief and repressed anger, which all begins to boil over following Melissa’s announcement.

Margaret Qualley continues to impress, and she is surely going to break out in a big way very soon. Nick Robinson is also very good here, channeling James Stewart as the camera toting sleuth with a broken leg. He definitely does his best work in indie films. Elsewhere in the cast, there are reliably impressive turns from Greg Kinnear, Brian Cox, and Blythe Danner.

As the tension escalates, and the truth begins to swim into focus, Athale starts to pull all of the disparate plot strands together, leading to a truly menacing and terrifying final act. Suspenseful, thrilling, and packed with excellent performances, this is undoubtedly one of the highlights of EIFF 2019 so far.

John Parker
John Parker
John is a freelance writer and film reviewer for Entertainment Focus.

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