When Strangers Appear (2001)
Review written by: Joshua Bozeman on February 21, 2003 @ 5:20 P.M. CT.
My Overall Rating: 9.5/10
Starring: Barry Watson, Radha Mitchell and Josh Lucas
When Strangers Appear starts out, it appears to be a semi-predictable film following the same predictable path that these sorts of movies do. That feeling doesn't last long. From the beginning- with the diner in the middle of nowhere, the lone female running the diner all by herself...starting the coffee, turning on the lights and the jukebox (after kicking it a few times to get it to start up), placing the ketchup and sugar firmly into place next to the menus...you know you're most likely in for a treat. Beth, the diner employee, is waiting for a customer...any customer. There is probably a highway near the diner, but we see little signs of life anywhere near the business. A young man comes in, acting strange, seemingly lost, very scared and jumpy. She makes him a free breakfast after finding out he's clearly in trouble and only had 80 cents on him. She talks to the guy, Jack, but he's not in the mood for much of a conversation. She wants to get more out of himn- he's in trouble, but what sort of trouble, and how serious is this trouble. After a short time, 3 other guys come into the diner, and Jack has disappeared...Beth catches him hiding in the back behind the counter, whispering to her to be quiet, and that the guys are after him. She keeps him safe, and learns that these guys stabbed him, and will now stop at nothing until they find him, and we're to guess- kill him. Beth feels like she must help Jack, so she does...she doesn't let the 3 guys who are in town to surf (so they say) know that she has seen Jack and that the car outside (the one Jack drove up in) has been there all morning.
We meet a woman who comes into the diner screaming...she says Beth slept with her husband, the local sherriff. Beth tells the lady that her husband is a rapist, and that he attacked her. We meet the so called rapist, and we see that he is, indeed, somewhat of an evil guy. We find out that Beth owns the diner, and she also owns a small motel near the diner...she takes Jack to a room at the hotel and keeps him safe...eventually taking him to the local doctor (the only person I trust in this town, Beth tells him) so he can get his wound stitched up.
More trouble starts when the guys come back to the diner, and Beth thinks that her doctor friend might have been attacked...by Jack or by the surfers who are supposedly looking for him? The movie is very complex, so it's hard to tell what happens without ruining anything...hell, as you can see from this review so far, it's hard to tell you what happens period without rambling on and on. The film becomes a story of who to trust...Jack who seems like a nice guy who is telling the truth or the surfers who don't seem weird like Jack, but seem to be less than totally honest. There's this story, plus a backstory with Beth and the rapist Sherriff and his wife...not to mention the town itself, which Beth would like more than anything to get out of, but she can't sell the diner and motel left to her by her father.
The script is wonderful for the most part, tho the ending stretches the limits of the imagination (the final scene is very implausible, and a bit silly if you ask me.) The acting is really great as well...I wouldn't consider myself a huge fan of Barry Watson, who is in the terrible series 7th Heaven, but in this movie, he was great. You teally got to like his character and what he was doing. The plot has a number of twists that I didn't see coming, and they worked really well to make up a very complex, very believeable movie. No complaints at all with the overall story and the lines seemed all natural and fit in really well.
The look of the film was really nice too. Very unique. I think it said some of it was filmed in New Zealand. Very nice surrounding, many fields and gravel roads around the diner and the motel...and even the very interesting doctors office which was in an unusually designed building far off from the road, complete with a wrap-around driveway. The setting and the look of the movie really helped out a lot, and it made it quite interesting. The diner especially was nice, it lent a lot to the story.
Direction wise- normal stuff, nothing really stuck out at me, not to say it was average, because it was above average in my opinion. There just wasn't anything crazy going on- no weird camera angles or confusing editing or anything.
Overall, I would have rated this movie a 10/10, but for the ending, I had to take away some points (well, a half a point, that is), because it wasn't real. Parts of the end defied logic...stupid characters doing things no average person would do...stuff exploding when it should have done so minutes before...fire sprinklers putting out cigarettes. It could have been handled better. It was a great movie tho, the kind I could watch numerous times and still enjoy it, I believe.