The action takes place against the backdrop of loss. Five years ago Ronnie Chase (Connor Jessup) and Melissa’s (Margaret Qualley) prom night began as they all do, with a rented tux, a frilly dress and proud parents taking photos. It ended in tragedy, with Ronnie dead in a car crash, an event that sent shock waves through the family. Stricken, his folks Charlene (Amy Ryan) and Richard (Greg Kinnear), split under the weight of their grief. Younger brother Philip (Nick Robinson) hightails it to NYC to pursue his dream of being a photographer and girlfriend Melissa is wracked with guilt, left with only her dreams of her late boyfriend.
Cut to present day. Charlene’s life has fallen apart. Her husband and job are gone, so when Melissa shows up, five years after the fateful night, claiming she is pregnant with Ronnie’s baby, she is not met with hugs and congratulations.
“If you think about it,” says Phillip, home recuperating from a badly broken leg, “there’s a chance what she said is true. If, and it’s a big if, if Ronnie’s sperm was somehow frozen before he died there’s a chance Melissa could have used it and impregnated herself years later.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Charlene snarls. “He was a teenager with his whole life ahead of him. Why would he do that?”
She sets off to find a rational explanation while Phillip grasps at straws, consulting psychics and leaving no possibility off the table. “I might not believe that this is Ronnie’s baby,” he says to Melissa,” but I believe that you believe it and I believe that Ronnie would have too. If that makes me an uncle, so be it.”
That search is the bedrock for a story packed with secrets and intrigue. Adapted from John Searles’s 2004 novel, “Strange But True” is a bit of a nesting doll of mysteries. Everyone has a backstory and a different relationship with the intrigue that forms the plot and the action toggles between past and present. That means there’s a lot to wade through in the film’s tight ninety-minute running time but director Rowan Athale manages it. He weaves psychological drama, a hint of paranormal, suspense and even some gothic horror into the story.
In the end the pregnancy is a McGuffin, simply a device to put all these elements into motion, but the result is a tightly wound thriller that leads to a gripping and satisfying conclusion.