New Strains

New Strains
March 18th 2023

A too-good-to-be-true New York City getaway turns hilariously nightmarish for the vacationing couple in New Strains (2023). Wry, resourceful, and unnervingly intimate, this nano-budget comedy of domestic discord in the time of Covid stars married directors Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan as recent-ish couple Kallia and Ram, newly in town under a miasma of media-exacerbated paranoia and existential frustration. When a titular “new strain” prolongs their already fraught trip, the pair must navigate a laundry list of personal foibles against a mounting public crisis.

With a Yorkville “classic six” as their playground—and a seemingly infinite supply of Hi8 tapes—the dynamic filmmaking duo turned lockdown coal into a glimmering indie diamond. Shot in fits and spurts over the course of Spring 2020, New Strains is the kind of pandemic movie of which every filmmaker dreams, but one which only this sweet, charismatic, and deeply wacky team could accomplish. Exalting in the spatial and technological limitations of their set and setting, Shaw and Kamalakanthan developed a unique house(-bound) style of cannily deployed jump cuts and voyeuristic B-roll, sweetened with ominously bourgeois objets d’art and stolen-shot exteriors. The result is a vibrantly contoured alternative to what could have been, in lesser hands, an exercise in dour claustrophobia.

As lockdown wears on, the sputtering static between these two lovers mutates from a constant low-frequency hum into an uncontainable spillage of raw performance. The breezy and inventive structure harbors little nostalgia for those early, chaotic days when performative evening applause, outdoor masking, and “Yoga by Adrienne” were all the rage. Instead, we are treated to a portrait of perfectly matched neurotics in a double act of relatable unraveling. Although “pandemic season one” grows increasingly distant with each passing variant, the petty jealousies and loving in-jokes of Kallia and Ram’s nascent relationship still pack a familiar punch. For the cuffled-and-hitched among us, New Strains is a loaded water pistol aimed at the messier surfaces of modern cohabitation.

New Strains screens tonight, March 18, at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of First Look 2023, the film’s North American premiere. Directors and stars Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan will be in attendance for a Q&A.