Review: ‘Stranger Things’

A nuanced and perfectly-proportioned character study, Stranger Things attunes itself to those small shifts in trust and temperament that occur when two strangers first discover a shared connection. Here, that recognition becomes complicated by economic and social positions, and writer-director’s Eleanor Burke and Ron Eyal find many prickly and uncomfortable moments between their characters along with sweet-tempered ones. Such subtle emotional fluctuations fill the film’s 77 minutes, which pass by with the melancholy softness of a late summer breeze.

We open on Oona (Bridget Collins), gazing out a train window en route to her recently-deceased mother’s house. A twentysomething anthropology student with cropped hair and worried eyes, she begins to sift through her mother’s many belongings. While Oona stays with next-door friend of the family Lil (Victoria Jeffrey, memorable in a small role), the empty house becomes the temporary shelter for Mani (Adeel Akhtar), a bushy-bearded homeless vagrant. Oona discovers Mani the following morning, striking the intruder over the head with a broom handle and chasing him away from the house. But after she finds Mani and returns the notebook he left in the house, Oona invites him back, offering him a place to sleep (in the shed) and some food to eat. Over the next few days, their relationship occupies an ambiguous middle space, moving from charity to friendship to a deeper and more amorphous sense of emotional understanding.

Mani and Oona certainly find common ground, most notably some complicated feelings toward elder figures in their lives — Oona’s mother; an older mentor whom Mani abandons on the beach. But Burke and Eyal are clear-eyed enough to recognize the immense differences in experience between the two, and many of the characters’ early scenes contain moments of painful tension and embarrassment. Collins and Akhtar excel at bringing out their characters’ less-flattering sides, whether it be Mani’s cold-eyed self-interest or Oona’s guilt-ridden fear (she bars her bedroom door with a chair during the first night that Mani sleeps in the shed).

They get to know one another within the confines of the house and its surroundings, captured via Burke’s gorgeous cinematography. The camera lingers upon bugs and birds, wind-blown fields and still grass, giving Oona and Mani’s world an almost Edenic sense of seclusion and natural beauty. Burke and Eyal remain equally interested in the intricacies of the human face, and fill Stranger Days with haunting extreme close-ups of their character’s expressive countenances, often lost in a state of uncertainty or introspection. And both their eye and ear for poetic detail are just terrific: the swirl of water, dirt and blades of grass that disappear after Mani’s long-overdue bath, or the changes in the film’s dense natural soundscape depending upon the time of day.

One could quibble with the film’s conclusion, which perhaps indulges in a certain kind of wish fulfillment. But after riding “Stranger Things’” becalmed, observant wavelength, I wanted to believe in the kind of generosity expressed in its final moments. Perhaps the blossoming of friendship between a middle-class white woman and a Middle Eastern homeless man seems unlikely as well. But, by film’s end, it feels as simple and profound as two souls looking up and really seeing one another — if only for a moment.

Rating: 3.5 stars (Excellent)

– Matt Connolly

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives