When Strangers Appear (2001) poster

When Strangers Appear (2001)


New Zealand/USA. 2001.


Director/Screenplay – Scott Reynolds, Producer – Sue Rogers, Photography – Simon Raby, Music – Roger Mason, Special Effects – Film Effects Ltd (Supervisor – Jason Durey), Production Design – John Girdlestone. Production Company – Midnight Films/Persona Non Grata Films.


Radha Mitchell (Beth), Barry Watson (Jack Barrett), Josh Lucas (Peter), Kevin Anderson (Bryce), Johnny Blick (Stephen), Eryn Wilson (Roger), Steven Ray (Dr Eric Leonard), Michael Lowe (Bernie), Dra McKay (Lynda)


Beth manages a backroads diner in rural Oregon. As she opens for business one morning, she is interrupted by a stranger, Jack, who is wounded and insists that three other men who arrive at the diner a few minutes later are hunting him. Beth is not sure whether to believe him. As she becomes caught up in helping Jack, somebody start killing locals. She is not sure whether to believe Jack that he is being hunted or the other three who claim that he is dangerous. At the same time, she is menaced by the local sheriff Bryce, who Beth is certain raped her, yet is also forced to rely on him for help.

New Zealand director Scott Reynolds failed to impress with his initial directorial outing, the serial killer film The Ugly (1997). It was a film that seemed to overflow with the arty pseudo-intellectual affect of student filmmakers that have yet to learn discipline. Much better was Scott Reynolds’ subsequent outing, the clairvoyance thriller Heaven (1998), which gained its effect through some remarkable editing juxtapositions. With When Strangers Appear, Scott Reynolds takes a quantum leap as a filmmaker, showing that he has matured as a director of considerable strength.

Reynolds gets his hold on the audience from the very outset and never lets up. The first twenty minutes of When Strangers Appear grip absolutely. One is kept in complete suspense over the appearance of Barry Watson as Radha Mitchell opens the diner, followed by the arrival of the three strangers and his sudden vanishing in mid-meal, the disappearance of the butcher’s knife, the cutting of the phone cord, and she finding him hiding whispering that they are after him, which is contrasted with them asking whose car is parked outside and it becoming clear that it is not his.

Radha Mitchell menaced by Barry Watson in When Strangers Appear (2001)
Radha Mitchell menaced by Barry Watson

Reynolds drives the film with these intensively sustained set-pieces. There are times the entire film can hang in a single moment of doubt that Reynolds creates around almost every character and anything they say at any one time. The suspense sequences generated – Radha Mitchell’s venture into the hotel room as the three men return, her necessary reliance on a sinister local cop who may or may not have also forced himself on her – is excellent. The climax that When Strangers Appear arrives at is kinetically intensive.

Disappointingly, When Strangers Appear is the last film Scott Reynolds has directed to date. The last credit he has produced has been writing additional dialogue for the New Zealand-shot South Korean Wu Xia/Western The Warrior’s Way (2010). Someone should give him some more money to make films.

Trailer here

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