An oddball mish-mash between the strangeness of surrealist cinema and a rather sordid TV movie, Strangers Online pitches us into a world where everyone has a sexual hang-up they’re fairly keen to share with the world via a late night web radio show called KSIN. KSIN is hosted by one Hollis Parker, a man who has thrown himself into his role as pastor of muppets to distract himself from the tragic murder of his partner Jenny four years previously. This still casts a shadow over his life as he tries to deal with the nightmarish episodes he suffers relating to the event. That said, he has tried to move on: he has a new girlfriend, Laura, and he’s in counselling. As the story - and the radio shows - roll on, we glean more information about Hollis’s troubled past, whilst the presence of a new intern called Karen (who joins the ranks of women who have the hots for Hollis) adds an additional complication to his work/life balance.

Everything in the plot here has a rather unsavoury vibe: voyeurism and surveillance colour the behaviour of almost all the characters - who in turn spend most of their time getting laid - and this angle grows more sinister as we move forward: outside of the KSIN studio, the voyeurism isn’t always invited. The reason that all of this sex refracted through cameras and dreamscapes doesn’t feel more outlandish is because a lot of it seems naïve in its way - Strangers Online seems to try to work through a checklist of naughty behaviour for its own sake and somehow seems less shocking or provocative for it. It also flirts with being too long or repetitious for the sake of racking up a few more nude scenes, when a greater focus on the motivations of the semi-clad would perhaps have lent more sinister weight to their behaviour. That said, the heavy use of dream sequences here is quite nicely edited even though this is something very easy to get wrong. In these sequences, the director makes use of some neat visual touches which link in items/events from previous scenes. Despite evidently having little budget to play with, this is a feat which eludes many filmmakers with bigger and better resources.

The performances are variable, but Hollis (Noel Palomaria) does a decent turn, lending enough charisma to the role to make it believable and to give an idea of what’s going on in that head of his (plus going beyond the call of duty in the amount of nude scenes he does - his buttocks should by rights have their own cast listing). Other cast members do okay, considering the pace of the film here is not their friend, but intern Karen (Tara Killian) also makes good with what she’s given, acting a convincingly unhinged femme. One of the main crimes here is the same crime committed by so many indie directors - being unable to part with any material. A good edit of ten or fifteen minutes would have strengthened the movie no end - especially, ahem, if this cut back on some of the unnecessary sleaze (and this is coming, by the way, from a reviewer with no problems with sleaze in general whatsoever).

Less flab and a more polished appearance (including ditching those awful CGI credits) would change the impact of this film substantially. As it goes, this is reasonably entertaining, gets some elements right and does manage to weave a tangled web of sex and bad dreams although it falls short of its self-proclaimed similarities to the truly nightmarish Blue Velvet. This is actually somewhere between that and a low-budget version of Sex, Lies and Videotape. Oh, but the film does gain cult movie bonus points for casting Linnea Quigley in a cameo.

Strangers Online is presented as a 4:3 anamorphic feature: the film unfortunately labours under a rather cheap-looking appearance, its colour levels seem a little gaudy and the heavy use of blue-screen for all the webcam footage exaggerates this problem. Sound levels are fine and incidental music comes across clearly. Although the finished release will contain a director’s commentary, deleted scenes (there were deleted scenes?), a blooper reel and an alternate ending, my screener copy didn’t have these features.

Review by Keri O’Shea

Released by Breaking Glass Pictures
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review