Short of the Day: ‘Backstroke’ is a Noirish Take on Teenage Rebellion

Never, ever go skinny-dipping in the movies.
By  · Published on May 19th, 2017

Never, ever go skinny-dipping in the movies.

Teenage rebellion is nothing new when it comes to the movies. Ever since producers figured out back in the 1950s that not only did teenagers have opinions and preferences, but money to spend, our collective cultural media has been slowly reorienting itself to align with those opinions and preferences to the point today teenagers essentially run our culture. Don’t believe me? The Twilight franchise took in over three billion dollars at the global box office and that girl from 13 Reasons Why has been the top-ranked star on IMDB ever since the show was released.

Also not new at the movies? Teenage rebellion gone wrong, usually to the tune of some reckless behavior that inspires an off-center adult to interfere with our young heroes’ freewheeling naivete. That’s the basic set-up of writer-director Robbie Barclay’s Backstroke, but where he takes things from there is anything but basic and in fact is novel, intriguing, unexpected and an emotional gut-punch, not to mention spellbindingly gorgeous.

A pair of runaway teens boost a car, find a gun, take a dip, and encounter a sinister-seeming stranger along the way. All the elements for a run-of-the-mill crime-centric thriller are in place, but the way Barclay arranges and exploits said elements results in something so far from the norm it will get a stranglehold on your senses and keep them there long after the credits roll.

Narratively, that’s all you should know going in, but technically I’d be remiss if I didn’t clue you in to just how good-looking and expertly-structured Backstroke is, felt to me like a young Jeff Nichols directing an undiscovered Cormac McCarthy short story, and if you know me you know dropping those two names in the same sentence is pretty much the greatest compliment I’ve ever given in this column.

Oh, and the last three seconds? You’ll never, ever forget them. Promise.

I say this on occasion because we cover some truly outstanding filmmakers on the rise here, but Robbie Barclay’s name needs to be etched into your filmic database right now. This dude isn’t just legit, he’s LEGIT. You simply can’t watch even a minute of Backstroke without seeing that he’s the best kind of filmmaker: a natural one. Expect giant, big, world-shaking things from him.


This is another stellar film that world premiered over on Short of the Week. 

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