A panicked young man runs through a forest, moments ahead of an unseen assailant and heavily hampered by a broken leg. The view then abruptly cuts to two days earlier, when his brother’s high school sweetheart shows up at his and his mother’s house, nine months pregnant and saying the baby’s is the brother’s. The only problem: this supposed father died five years ago. Based on the 2004 novel by John Searles, Strange But True launches straight into this bizarre premise, allowing each character breathing room to deal with – or deny – this bombshell with awkwardness, fury, gentleness, and confusion.
The film’s first two thirds – aside from that opening scene – are almost a magical realist meditation on grief, guilt, love, and loss. Time is spent with the characters in this suspended state, getting to know them and the bereavement that keeps them stuck five years in the past. Anchoring this exploration are tremendous performances by the whole cast: Amy Ryan peels back the mother’s casual cruelty to mine the devastation she hides, Nick Robinson exudes kindness to all but himself, and Margaret Qualley copes by accepting her unusual situation with unwavering belief. In the supporting cast, Blythe Danner and Brian Cox are simply lovely – almost too much so.
A chilling third act revelation switches key to outright thriller – a twist that momentarily threatens to unbalance the film’s delicate dreamlike atmosphere just as it provides the missing pieces. However, the atmospheric foundation carries through the heart-pumping climax, tying everything together with genuine poignancy.
Strange But True sidesteps the pulpy nature of its premise with a grounded, kind look at lives after loss, the quiet violence of denial, and the measures taken to keep loved ones. What emerges from this elegiac drama and high adrenaline noir is a moving tale with staying power.
CAST: Amy Ryan, Nick Robinson, Margaret Qualley, Connor Jessup, Blythe Danner, Brian Cox, Greg Kinnear
DIRECTOR: Rowan Athale
WRITERS: Eric Garcia
SYNOPSIS: A woman reappears five years after the death of her high school sweetheart, nine months pregnant and claiming the baby is his.