The Strays is a must-watch Netflix thriller with an unforgettable finale
Back in August, homegrown thriller I Came By kept Netflix viewers gripped with its dark and timely tale of the haves and have-nots. It marked an auspicious start to Netflix's new crop of UK movies, and The Strays delivers on that promise.
The feature directorial debut of Nathaniel Martello-White (who you might recognise from I Hate Suzie) sees him take a tale he heard about a biracial mother who left her children behind to start a new life, spinning it out to feature-length and taking it to horrifying extremes.
Here, the mother is Neve (Ashley Madekwe) who is living a seemingly perfect life in the suburbs with her husband and two children. She's the deputy head at the local private school and is planning a charity gala, as you do. But her carefully-manufactured life is about to come crashing down.
When Neve starts to suspect that two shadowy figures (Jorden Myrie and Bukky Bakray) are stalking her, the truth starts to come out and Neve's life is changed forever. She might be having the worst time, but you'll be gripped right through to the unforgettable climax.
In the same way that the story never pans out as conventionally as you'd expect, Martello-White structures The Strays with four distinct segments that play with the timeline, the protagonist and even tone.
The first section 'Neve' plays out like a horror with Neve stalked by figures just out of her view, but are they really there? Lazy comparisons would say it has a Get Out vibe, but while it has the similarity of exploring something off in the suburbs, The Strays focuses more on themes of code-switching and colourism, among others.
In much the same way as Barbarian did last year, the section ends with an explosive revelation and before we have time to settle on that, the movie switches gear to a more coming-of-age feel in the second section. It's here where you realise the game the movie is playing on you: you think you know what you should feel, but you don't.
Martello-White's script delivers a nuanced and layered leading trio of characters and offers no easy answers. Your allegiances will switch throughout and by the end, you still won't know who is in the right – if anybody is. Combined with the storytelling shifts, the movie relishes leaving you feeling off-kilter and totally absorbed as a result.
That The Strays works as effectively as it does is also down to the excellent performances at its heart. Ashley Madekwe subtly conveys the struggles behind Neve's perfect suburban façade, while Jorden Myrie and Bukky Bakray effortlessly switch from endearing to terrifying and back again within a single scene.
When everybody is brought together for the astonishing final act, the movie ramps up the tension to almost unbearable levels. We won't go into spoilers here, but if you thought your family games of Scrabble were fraught affairs, think again. It's a fittingly unpredictable climax that's capped with a dark flourish.
For some, The Strays might end a bit too abruptly and its supporting cast isn't fleshed out as its leading trio. However, when it delivers the thrills as it does and leaves you with plenty to chew over, you'll likely be in a place to forgive those slight flaws.
You might not want them in your life, but you won't regret inviting The Strays into your Netflix list.
The Strays is available to watch now on Netflix.
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