Oscar winning short Two Distant Strangers’ power is undercut by its unoriginality.
Two Distant Strangers ☆☆☆
Joey Bada$$, Andrew Howard, and Zaria Simone
Direction: Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe
The time loop concept meets socio-political commentary in the short film Two Distant Strangers, a sci-fi drama that confronts racism and police brutality in America. The protagonist is a Black man who just wants to get back home to his dog. But there is someone standing in his way: a White cop.
When graphic designer Carter (portrayed by Joey Bada$$) leaves his date Perri’s (Zaria Simone) apartment the morning after a tryst, he hopes to go home where his dog Jeter awaits his return. But he is instead stopped on the street by Officer Merk (Andrew Howard) who thinks Carter might be smoking a joint.
Things escalate – just as we have seen them happen in real life all too often over the last few years – and Carter ends up being killed by the policeman … only to wake up, once again, in Perri’s apartment. As he navigates the morning over and over again, hoping to change the outcome each time, he finds himself stuck in a loop that only ends one way: with his death at the hands of the cop.
It’s a dark drama with disturbing parallels to reality. If you want your entertainment to offer its message with subtlety, then you might want to look elsewhere. Two Distant Strangers confronts its subject matter head-on, and it delivers a blow with each of its arcs.
Its impact is powerful; its final twist is unexpected and brutal; and its message is important. The vehicle of its delivery, though, is not entirely original.
Time loops are obviously not a new idea. Ever since Groundhog Day popularized the device in the early ‘90s, the reset concept has been used numerous times onscreen, including the recent Happy Death Day films, the Russian Doll television series, and the movie Palm Springs (all three of which, incidentally, are terrific). The idea still works if you are doing something unique with it … which, it turns out, Two Distant Strangers isn’t.
The time loop appears to have been used almost exactly the same way in the same context a couple of times before. Most prominently, writer-director Cynthia Kao’s 2016 short Groundhog Day For A Black Man (available on YouTube and well worth a watch) also finds a Black man trying to survive a police interaction. And Two Distant Strangers might also leave you experiencing deja vu if you have seen the 2019 The Twilight Zone episode ‘Replay’ with which it shares several similarities. (Apparently it’s also similar to a 2019 movie called The Obituary of Tunde Johnson.)
All in all, Two Distant Strangers has an important message to share, but it’s a message that has already been shared before in a suspiciously similar way.
It’s still worth a viewing though and will likely leave you pondering its theme and ideas long after it’s over.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only
*** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection