By Paul Murphy | Drama
A troubled woman reveals her dark secret to a stranger at a bus stop.

A distraught, seemingly shy but well-to-do woman named Karen rushes to a bus stop, wheeling a suitcase behind her. Just after she gets there, Niki -- a young teenager, brash and confident -- also arrives at the stop.

The two strangers keep to themselves as they wait for the bus. But even though they don't interact, they can't help but observe, be curious, and even get annoyed with one another, especially as the first woman's cell phone rings repeatedly. But as their wait goes on, they find themselves sharing unexpected and devastating common ground.

Written and directed by Paul Murphy, this emotionally compelling drama is a snapshot of two strangers' lives colliding on one gray day. With lucid, perceptive writing and sensitive, finely hewn direction, it takes the opportunities made possible by a city's public spaces to bring together two different sets of experiences, creating resonant drama from similarities and differences.

There's a deep, worn-down melancholy in the muted color palette and cinematography as if the time and place were drained of color. Within this drab urban landscape, Karen struggles, embroiled in some personal crisis. When she encounters Niki, she takes pains to shield her distress, though Niki can't help but be both curious and irritated by Karen.

Their initial dialogue is strained, as they both misread one another's expressions and body language, creating waves of defensiveness between them. The storytelling emphasizes unspoken thoughts and flickers of unexpressed feeling, and through discerning editing, it builds up both how different these two women are, but also their fundamental misreads of one another based on cursory glances and judgments.

But through beautifully woven dialogue, the two slowly find common ground. Actor Lisa Kay as Karen plays both her character's genuine crisis and the strenuous attempts to hide it, but she also reveals the many layers of her predicament -- and her psychological imprisonment within it. As Niki, actor Tahirah Sharif reveals a deep empathy underneath Niki's bold, extraverted demeanor, as well as a surprising well of tough-love compassion, especially as the full extent of Karen's crisis is revealed.

Many films and stories examine the compelling situation of a sudden, deep intimacy between two strangers, and how it is sometimes easier to face the truth from a stranger once taken out of the familiar context of everyday life. But "Stop" takes this idea even further to explore the darker territory of abuse.

Through portraying the perspectives of two people of different races, socioeconomic standings and ages, it shows that domestic family abuse is endemic through all levels of society, and how difficult it is, logistically and psychologically, to leave an abuser. The ending of "Stop" exists in this tenuous space, giving rise to sadness, uncertainty, doubt. But also to hope and strength, drawn from the understanding and truth we can give one another.

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