Stray Dolls

A debut which should make many sit up and take notice from director Sonejuhi Sinha. Sinha had already earned some attention for the three short films she had directed – Miles of Sand, Love Comes Later and Give Into the Night. All together they add up to a strong case for making her an interesting and different voice in the next generation of directors.

The cycle of crime and poverty is often one in which there is little chance for escape. Which is exactly what new arrival to the United States Riz (Geetanjali Thapa – from television’s Sacred Games) is attempting to do. She is looking to leave behind all the petty crime with which she had become involved with in India. Wiping the slate clean. Walking the straight and narrow. Easier said than done.

Riz is taken in by the manager of a run down motel called Tides Plaza Motel. Una (Cynthia Nixon – from television’s Sex and the City), who takes Riz’s passport, puts her to work immediately and promises to help her earn status in the country.

Working as a housekeeper in a decrepid motel is not exactly glamourous nor does it have the money rolling in, but Riz is happy to be away from her previous life. Or so she thinks. Trouble seems to follow her around and it is almost a sure thing due to her new roommate, Dallas (Olivia DeJonge – The Visit).

Dallas is a wild young lady. She is sleeping with Una’s son, Jimmy (Robert Aramayo – Nocturnal Animals, Galveston). The two have the typical dreams of young people in small towns – they want out. What they are willing to do to get out isn’t typical. The two are selling drugs. It is when Dallas gets Riz involved that they think they have scored the big one. What they actually have done is gotten in over their heads dragging Riz down with them.

Presented in a noir style, the film, despite its small budget, oozes tension. Maybe at times in a forced way, but it is always there. Because of the level of desparation by many of the characters that tension is inevitable. When you feel that way you are eventually going to go too far in your attempts to achieve the American Dream. Throw in young people without much life experience and that goes up tenfold.

Dallas and Riz, along with Jimmy, fall straight into that trap. Accompanying them down the rabbit hole is the film. And by extension, the viewer.

The dialogue keeps pace and the story does not always go the way you expect keeping things interesting. No one is made out to be the victim here. They all have a hand in what occurs. Once the wheels are put in motion Sinha makes sure the pace of the film keeps up. There are no lags following the kick off. Everything is kept rather dark which keeps you as jittery as Riz as you watch.

Nice to see a film, in which the characters are so often defaulted to be male, giving us the female perspective. Demonstrating that young women can be led towards revenge and violence too, if pushed enough. They will not remain helpless when the chips are down. The two young female leads are good with Dejonge bringing to life a desperate and unpredictable Dallas while Thapa has a little trickier job with the at first reticent Riz. She shows no problems changing gears once the poop has hit the fan.

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