Small town guy Anthony (Raphael Barker) arrives in San Francisco to live with his new boyfriend Stephen (Scott Cox). However domestic bliss soon turns sour when Stephen turns out to be demanding, controlling, abusive, manipulative and volatile.
The film jumps between Anthony in the midst of the tempestuous relationship and afterwards, when he find himself alone and isolated in the big city, before striking up a friendship with a young, runaway hustler, Gavin (Ada Perez). In between one night stands, trying drugs and desperately attempting to put his life back on track, Anthony finds himself drawn to Gavin, and together they find a connection in the anonymous, impersonal world of the big city.
A verite-style depiction of life in San Francisco, there’s no doubt the movie sometimes veers a little too close to melodrama, but it’s largely a rather affecting, tightly drawn and pretty raw drama. I did have one problem, which is with the way it jumps about in time. It’s often difficult to follow exactly where you are in the story, which is particularly problematic with the relationship between Anthony and Stephen, where the constantly jumping narrative means it’s occasionally tough to properly keep track of exactly what’s going on.
However while the time jumps are a little frustrating, The Stranger In Us is largely a fresh, moody piece. Initially I found the depiction of the abusive Stephen rather frustrating, as his outbursts and volatility seemed so irrational and somewhat OTT and false. There seemed no logic to it, even from his perspective, however the film is essentially looking at things from Anthony’s point of view, and to him there is no logic and so the film gives none to us. Anthony’s dealing with an abusive man whose eruptions seem to have little reason or warning. It’s actually rather effective in getting across the sense people who’ve been in abusive relationships often have, of searching for logic in what’s going on, before eventually realising it doesn’t make any sense to a rational person.
It is perhaps Gavin who’s the most interesting character though, a 17-year-old who’s run away from home and is looking for an organisation he’s heard of that helps queer teens with family troubles. Gavin is sweet, good-hearted and yet manipulative, but even when he’s manipulating there’s an honesty and positivity to everything he does. It’s that honesty that Anthony latches onto, with both of them finding the sort of human contact they crave in the midst of personal difficulties.
Oh and if you watch the film and start wondering where you’ve seen Raphael Barker before, it was probably when he was having very energetic sex in Shortbus.
Overall Verdict: Although imperfect, The Stranger In Us is one of those small films that proves to be a rough gem, with a heartfelt, rather gritty voice that has real issues it wants to talk about.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac