Monday, May 22, 2023

Not to Be Confused With the Killer Cat Movie


Netflix no longer has the prime reputation it used to when it comes to horror, but it does manage to obtain some interesting genre films (for the most part, so long as they're not actually made in the US or directly for Netflix). So that's how we come to today's "Netflix Original".

Quick Plot: The London-based Cheryl is, in her words, "in a dip." She's tired of asking the government for assistance and even more exhausted with the looks she gets when she does. She deserves better, and exits her life in order to get it.

Years pass, and we're re-introduced to our lead now living as Neve Williams, deputy head mistress at an English suburb's most prestigious private school, wife to the successful insurance expert Ian, and mother to typical teenagers Sebastian and Mary. Neve seems to be extraordinarily successful. She's run out of room to shelve her academic medals and is proudly throwing her first charity gala at 500 pounds a plate. 

If only her weaves weren't so itchy.

Neve's confidence seems to take a bit of a hit when two young black people enter her family's orbit. First is Carl, her school's new janitor and Sebastian's new weed-supplying best friend. Then there's Abigail, Ian's new receptionist who quickly discovers the way to Mary's heart is proper hair braiding technique. 

To say more about The Strays would give away a big mid-way reveal that reconfigures the rest of the film, so I'll sum up my thoughts before diving into the spoiler deep zone. The Strays is the kind of movie that will likely leave more viewers frustrated than satisfied, and while I don't think it fully delivers on its potential, I found it the kind of ambitious, messy debut that makes me excited in my own confusion. It's a cautious recommendation on my side. 

And now...

The signs are all there for the big twist: Neve left more than just her name behind. The revelation rightfully shakes her clueless family, while Neve/Sheryl continues her focused path to pay off her secret children and continue the life she prefers. The final act takes us to home invasion territory, which is probably the main reason The Strays shows up in the horror section at all. What's fascinating for us as the viewers is that as much as Mary, Sebastian, and Ian are innocent, it's probably a deep rorschach test to see what we actually WANT to happen as Carl and Abi/Dionne let loose. 

Ultimately, writer/director Nathaniel Martello-White never seems to have all of his ideas readily lined up. At just over 90 minutes, there's not quite enough time for us to understand any of the characters (Neve aside) to really know what Neve's actions are doing. Ian displays multiple layers when it comes to his feelings on race (perhaps showing a bit too much liberal pride in employing a black woman, while also giving a fast honest reaction to the idea that he would have raised two black children) but there are simply too many other things going on at once for us to digest it. Mary clearly craves more understanding of her own black identity but how the discovery shifts her world isn't given a single line. And a subplot with Sebastian's basketball bully is left hanging in such an odd way that I had to go back and check some plot rundowns to make sure I didn't miss something. 

So no, The Strays doesn't add up to a solid film. At the same time, there's a LOT here that stews well, plus an ending that feels like absolute perfection. Overall, I didn't get what I expected, but it's something I'll think about for quite some time. 

High Points
The Strays is definitely a case where its cast elevates the material. As Cheryl/Neve, Ashley Madekwe toes a difficult line in playing a woman who has made decisions that are indefensible to everyone but herself. Even more intriguing are Jorden Myria and Bukky Bakray as Carl and Abi, channeling a lifetime of system abuses and abandonment with justifiable rage

Low Points
Aforementioned messiness

Lessons Learned
British waitresses are very bad at reading the room

You don't have to be a dysfunctional family to be further divided by a game of Scrabble

The Strays is an odd duck of a film with no real genre to call its own. I saw it recommended as a Jordan Peele-esque horror movie, but it's probably better paired with something like The Killing of a Sacred Deer than Us. I was riveted and ultimately left a little frustrated, but it still made me excited to see more of what Nathaniel Martello-White can do. 

No comments:

Post a Comment