On the surface, Stray Bullets seems like a pretty run of the mill crime thriller. Two teenage boys get tangled with three criminals they just happened to come across in upstate New York. That all seems pretty standard as I was watching this film, but soon after the credits rolled and I started doing my research to write this review I came across a pretty interesting twist. This film is directed by a 16 year old.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. A 16 year old kid wrote, directed and starred in this film. I had to go back and think about this as the context has changed. Sure I can go on and on and the filming and acting and general story, but to hear that a high school student took on this project and got it released, impressive is just one of the words I could use to describe it.
I think about the kind of films I attempted to make and realized just how bad they were. I generally had no idea what I was doing, any kind of script, any skill of acting, nothing. I gave it up pretty quickly as I didn’t have the patience you need as a director to put together a film. It was like giving a camcorder to a five year old and asking them to point and shoot. I have such a great respect for anyone that can make a movie. It is a difficult task, let alone almost impossible to make a good one that is universally enjoyed.
What I liked the most about Stray Bullets was its realism. The two lead kids (writer/director Jack Fessenden and Asa Spurlock) truly felt like teenage boys. They acted, spoke, and looked like how I did in high school. They didn’t look like the Hollywood model of perfection; they were real and easily identifiable. The three criminals weren’t as strong and felt like a cartoon depiction of what a gangster might be in a strange setting. What is pretty cool is that Larry Fessenden plays one of the criminals, being directed by his son Jack.
Despite the grounded approach to the film, there were signs of a new director struggling to put together a truly compelling film. The acting can be very hit or miss, including very cringe worthy performance from these two teenage girls Jack and Asa run into (it felt like they grabbed these girls off the street). It’s not to say all bad, there are genuine moments of tension and fear that really brings it all back together at shows real talent from the direction chair.
I also found the dialogue at times to be fairly hokey. I’m not claiming to be the best writer, and it very well could be the acting not delivering the lines in the right way, but I rolled my eyes several times because I felt I would never speak like these kids (even at 16). The pacing also dragged at times, even for a 83 minute film.
That being said, the brief moments of action and tension are well shot and are built in a way only a true artist could. The movie feels a little bit like No Country for Old Men near the end, but it really did a good job at displaying the desperation and frantic confusion of the characters. It all comes together with a pretty shocking climax that I was not expecting.
So Stray Bullets, even with its flaws, shows just how talented newcomer Jack Fassenden is behind the camera. For all its flaws and weaknesses, Jack proves he understands filmmaking and its continuing to learn and grow. For 16 years old, I have to say this truly is outstanding work. I look forward to seeing more from Jack soon.