The current coronavirus pandemic, and the government’s response to it, are reshaping the dynamics of social interaction. People are now way more cautious and try to maintain a safe distance from each other at stores. It has also bred significant amounts of cabin fever and distrust of our fellow humans. This brings us to the science fiction-horror hybrid Old Strangers, written and directed by Nick Gregorio.
The film is set directly after the first wave of lockdowns concluded in California. Three friends, Mike (Ted Evans), Sarah (Madeline Humphries), and Danny (Colton Eschief Mastro), have successfully tested negative for Covid-19 and are going to spend the weekend together in a cabin up in the wilderness of Big Bear. While on a Saturday morning hike, they encounter a field of shimmering gray blobs. Danny reaches out for one, it stings him, and now we have the makings of a very tense and atmospheric Sunday, to be sure.
While there’s nothing explicitly Lovecraftian about Old Strangers, it exists in an atmospheric, otherworldly realm of eldritch terror, which could certainly be a companion piece to any cinematic adaptation of the author’s work. This feels related to Color Out of Space, for example. Here, there is a weird, beautifully crafted scene devoted to an asteroid hurtling through space. This is the sort of unknowable horror which Lovecraft’s writing thrived upon. It also works really well in the greater context of this narrative.
“…encounter a field of shimmering gray blobs. Danny reaches out for one, it stings him…”
The movie heavily relies on its three principal actors to convey the uncanny, distrustful events which occur over this weekend camping trip. Fortunately, Evans, Humphries, and Mastro are up to the task. While I watched the story unfold, I did not lose interest, not even for a second. That is a credit to the three leads and their wonderful chemistry with each other.
The visual effects and makeup, though sparse, are used to very good effect. I enjoyed how an infected fingertip could prove so eerie and jarring to the senses. The asteroid scene, as mentioned above, was also very effective. I was spellbound by its cosmic journey towards the Earth, and Big Bear in specific.
A horror film set in the Pandemic, with Lovecraftian overtones, Old Strangers is a welcome change of pace. I especially enjoyed Mastro’s portrayal of a person who has been infected by an alien entity’s sting. It’s as if it is a metaphor for Covid-19 and the rampant distrust and fear of others that the lockdown has engendered in all of us. We all seem to lack trust in our fellow humans to varying degrees. I cannot begin to enumerate the number of times people will move another few feet away from me as I walk down sidewalks or through the aisles of a store. It’s as if everyone is concerned that any stranger met in their day could be infected.
Old Strangers is a wonderful movie. If you have an interest in the creeping dread of backwoods horror, then this sci-fi story is for you. The superb acting and effects will leave you riveted.