Two Distant Strangers is a 2020 short film (32 minutes) directed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe.
The setting is New York. A young black man named Carter (played by rapper Joey Bada$$), wakes up one morning in the apartment of Perri, the beautiful young black woman he just had sex with. They bid each other an affectionate goodbye, and, with hope of seeing her again, Carter leaves.
On the street outside Carter accidentally runs into a man holding a coffee cup, causing the man to spill coffee all over his shirt. Some angry raised voices draw the attention of Officer Merk the beat cop, who instantly confronts Carter and accuses him of smoking a joint (he isn't; it's a normal cigarette). When Carter declines a demand to be searched for no reason, Officer Merk blows the situation up into a major confrontation. In an instant, Carter is prone on the ground, four cops are on him, and Officer Merk applies a choke-hold...and Carter dies.
Then he wakes back up in Perri's apartment. He goes outside again, is confronted by Officer Merk again, and is killed again. Then he wakes back up in Perri's apartment.
He soon realizes that he is in a particularly horrifying "Groundhog Day" Loop in which, no matter what he does, he is killed by Officer Merk. Can Carter escape?
- Blood from the Mouth: On two different occasions Carter is shown to have been killed by the blood trickling from his mouth.
- The Dead Have Names: At the end there is a scroll of black people murdered by police, with notes of the circumstances for a few of them ("Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her bed"), and titles after the scroll of names urging "SAY THEIR NAMES" and "REMEMBER THEIR NAMES".
- Determinator: The last scene has Carter back in Perri's apartment after a hundred trips through the loop, as he tells her that not only is he stuck in the loop, but Officer Merk knows it and is killing him on purpose. A shocked Perri asks what he's going to do, and Carter says that somehow, some way, he will get home to his dog.
- Driving Question: Can Carter escape the loop? The Reveal leaves the question unanswered.
- Dutch Angle: The opening shot shows Carter sleeping, his face on a pillow—but it's tilted 90 degrees so that he and the bed are oriented vertically. This may be subtle foreshadowing that something is wrong.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: A terrifying example. Carter is trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop in which, no matter what he does, he is murdered by Officer Merk and the police. One time he decides not to leave Perri's apartment, so Officer Merk and the NYPD burst into the apartment on a no-knock warrant looking for drugs, and Carter is killed.
- Hope Spot: Two.
- Desperate to escape the loop, Carter decides to approach Officer Merk directly and talk with him. They talk, Carter wows him with the stuff he's learned after being through the loop so many times (a skateboarder will fall down, and that text is from Officer Merk's mom), and they part amicably. Carter turns the corner, two young black men that are being chased by other cops run past him, and those other cops kill Carter.
- After that didn't work out, Carter asks Officer Merk to take him home. Officer Merk agrees, drives him across town, as they have another amicable conversation. Officer Merk parks next to Carter's building, and they shake hands... and then comes The Reveal.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: While having his philosophical debate with Officer Merk about white supremacy and structural racism, Carter says, of black poverty, "And then we're stuck in a cycle we can't fuckin' break!" This is also true in both systemic racism and the events of this film in which Carter is stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop.
- Malicious Misnaming: Averted for laughs, as Perri and Carter tease each other while he's leaving the apartment the first time, he pretends to forget her name, landing on several alternatives before choosing "Parsley".
- Modesty Bedsheet: In all the overhead shots of Carter and Perri in bed together, the bedsheet only covers him to the waist while she has it securely tucked under her armpits. This is even more glaring because she is at the same time managing to stick a long, gorgeous leg out from under the sheet.
- Mood Whiplash: What seems like it might be a cheerful rom-com short about young love suddenly veers into tragedy the first time that Carter is murdered by Officer Merk.
- No Ending: Officer Merk kills Carter to begin another loop after revealing that he's been both aware and permissive of it the entire time.
- Police Brutality: The whole plot, as a "Groundhog Day" Loop sees Carter being repeatedly killed by Officer Merk, despite Carter being completely innocent.
- The Reveal: The climax reveals that Carter isn't the only one with Ripple Effect-Proof Memory; Officer Merk has it, too. He knows exactly what's going on, and he is killing Carter, over and over, for sport.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Besides the many horror stories of black people being murdered by police, there's a specific reference to the death of Eric Garner: when Carter is killed by chokehold for his first death he gasps "I can't breathe", which were Garner's last words as he was choked to death.
- Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: It's almost impossible to have a "Groundhog Day" Loop story without someone having this trope. Carter goes through a terrifying loop where he's continually murdered by Officer Merk and the NYPD, no matter what he does. The Reveal is that Officer Merk also has this trope and is killing Carter over and over for fun.
- Rule of Symbolism: After the climactic reveal, when Officer Merk shoots Carter In the Back and Carter falls down and dies in the parking lot, the pool of blood spreading out from under his body forms the shape of Africa.
- Sarcastic Clapping: How The Reveal happens. Officer Merk drops Carter off, they shake hands, and part as friends... until Officer Merk raises his hands over his head and starts slowly, sarcastically clapping. It turns out that Officer Merk knows exactly what's going on with the "Groundhog Day" Loop, and is "applauding" Carter for working so hard to survive. After he's done clapping, he shoots Carter In the Back.
- Shout-Out: When Officer Merk tells him that it's actually illegal for him to ride in the front seat of the cop car, Carter says "Man, that Kevin Hart movie was a fuckin' lie."
- 6 Is 9: The "9" on Perri's apartment door has come loose and is now hanging as a 6. This leads to one of Carter's deaths when Officer Merk and the cops crash into the wrong apartment on a no-knock raid... although given The Reveal it might not have mattered.
- Slipstream Genre: No explanation is given for how Carter becomes trapped in the loop, although it may be that Officer Merk has somehow orchestrated it.
- Thematic Theme Tune: A hip hop song performed by Joey Bada$$ plays over the credits, with lyrics that include "Two distant strangers/we are not the same/because I'm just another target on the range."
- "This Is the Part Where... I open up my bag," says Carter to Officer Merk. After figuring out that he'll be killed no matter what he does, a desperate Carter decides to approach Officer Merk directly, and explain what's going on, how Officer Merk mistakes Carter's cigarette for a joint, how Merk makes him open his bag, and all the other things that are happening at the same time.
- Time Loop Trap: Hinted at by The Reveal. Officer Merk has Ripple Effect-Proof Memory, knows what is going on, and is killing Carter over and over again for fun. Could someone, either Officer Merk or someone else, have deliberately trapped Carter in the loop?