The Stranger Things People do When They Think They’re Alone


Ever caught yourself watching a stranger who was oblivious to your eye, and become fixated for so long that the situation began to feel weird, almost intimate? The debut feature by Eleanor Burke and Ron Eyal produces just this effect. As she confronts the unseemly business of clearing out her recently deceased mother’s cottage on the East Sussex coast, London journalist Oona strikes up a quiet friendship with Mani, the homeless man who has been squatting there. Bridget Collins and Adeel Akhtar, the leads, express more in their stark, make-up-free faces than in any line of dialogue—which is wisely kept sparse. Much of the film is a study of the peculiar things people do when they think they’re alone. Mani absently examines an old radio. Oona plays with Legos, and does so beautifully. As she sits skimming the back cover of a novel or throwing sticks across a pasture, we might feel as though we’re watching Wyeth’s Christina’s World adapted into film, but in chilly, distinctly British gray-and-blue-based hues. The extended silences—there’s no soundtrack save for one jaunty little ditty, a found childhood relic—serve to advance the central relationship, and the directorial team crafts these shots so that instead of feeling drawn out, they seem that they’ve just been allowed to happen. Same goes for the awkwardness between Oona and Mani, which is far from indie-standard adorable. In fact, it’s downright uncomfortable. But as a result the bond between this university graduate and the ragged drifter comes to seem vital and true, undercutting the full-blown sentimentality of the conclusion.