Two Distant Strangers


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Two Distant Strangers
"It's not a subtle idea but subtlety may not be what the wider context calls for."

Narratively speaking, the most interesting part of a one night stand is almost always the morning after. There's no social script for it, no guide to tell us how to engage with the stranger beside us, even if things seemed simple the night before. Waking up with Perri (Zaria), Carter (Joey Bada$$) is immediately struck by the awkwardness of the situation. He likes her and he wants to be respectful, but he also wants to get home and tend to his dog, whom we meet by way of a phone call.

If this were any ordinary time loop film, it would concern itself with Carter getting better at managing the morning's conversations and perhaps developing deeper feelings for Perri along the way. There's a little of this, but the crux of the film is something else. Outside Perri's apartment block, Carter is stopped by a cop who questions the cigarette he's smoking, the money he's carrying. Clearly the man is looking for trouble. Carter tries to be reasonable but asserts his rights. A woman at a nearby fruit stall starts filming the incident on her phone. Nevertheless, the officer escalates, summoning others, and before he knows it, Carter is pinned down on the ground with an arm around his neck, frantically trying to explain that he can't breathe. Then he wakes up next to Perri, assumes he was just dreaming, and the sequence begins again.

If you find time loop films frustrating, that's part of the point. Carter is hardly alone among young Afro-American men in having to think through his actions carefully every day to avoid getting killed. It's that inescapable day to day effort that director/co-writer Travon Free captures best, and it's every bit as powerful as the death scenes which gradually stack up. It's the sense, also, that ultimately there may be nothing Carter can do to keep this man - this stranger - from wanting to kill him.

It's not a subtle idea but subtlety may not be what the wider context calls for. There is a lot of good work here. The characters are all well drawn - even the dog waiting anxiously at home. Free's script takes in a variety of situations which will ring bells for those who pay attention to these stories in the news, but they all flow seamlessly into Carter's story. Attractively shot and scored by Bruce Hornsby's The Way It Is, the film strikes a perfectly whimsical note with warnings present but easy for white viewers to overlook. Even Carter seems distant from such thoughts the first time he leaves the apartment - caught up, briefly, in that rush of emotion that an unplanned sexual encounter can bring, a moment replete with possibility. It is the theft of that sense of possibility, the realisation that all roads lead to the same end, that is to crushing. Death here has added impact because the film is so full of life.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2021
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Two Distant Strangers packshot
A cartoonist's repeated attempts to get home to his dog are thwarted by a recurring deadly encounter that forces him to re-live the same day over and over again.

Director: Travon Free, Martin Desmond Roe

Writer: Travon Free

Starring: Joey Bada$$, Andrew Howard, Zaria

Year: 2020

Runtime: 32 minutes

Country: US


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