While frustrating and over the top at times, it tells an interesting story and will keep you guessing until the very end.
Directed by Nathaniel Martello-White, we review the 2023 Netflix film The Strays, which does not contain spoilers.
Nathaniel Martello-White‘s feature debut, The Strays, is a social commentary thriller with similar themes to Jordan Peele’s Get Out and the Prime Video series, Them. The narrative centers on a mixed-race woman whose perfectly crafted white upper-class life comes apart when two black people move into her posh neighborhood.
The Strays (2023) Review and Plot Summary
The Strays opens with the protagonist, Cheryl (played by Ashley Madekwe), venting to her sister about her financial struggles. Despite being employed, she needs government assistance to pay her rent. Unhappy with her life, Cheryl packs a small bag, leaves a note saying she’s going to the hairdresser, leaves her brick phone behind as her partner calls, and walks out the door.
We’re then re-introduced to Cheryl (who now goes by Neve) many years later. She now lives in a predominantly white upper-class village, is married to insurance broker Ian (Justin Salinger), and works as deputy headmaster at the posh private school both her teenage kids, Sebastian (Samuel Paul Small) and Mary (Maria Almeida), attend. Everything about Neve, apart from her skin color, screams upper-class white woman – her accent, the car she drives, the perfectly manicured wigs she wears, and even the gala she puts together to raise money for “unfortunate individuals” in Africa. It’s clear how hard she works to belong when we see her practicing her accent in the mirror.
READ: Best Movies on Netflix in 2023
Neve’s perfect little life starts crashing down when two young black people, Marvin (Jorden Myrie) and Abigail (Bukky Bakray), enter the town. She’s less than enthused when her husband hires Abigail at his insurance office, and when Marvin gets a job as a janitor at her school, she goes as far as trying to get him sacked. Neve’s paranoia over these two people grows to terrifying levels – she sees them everywhere, thinks they’re out to get her, and has bizarre, even violent outbursts in front of her husband, children, and friends.
While nowhere near as compelling as Get Out, there’s plenty to like about The Strays. Neve’s breakdown in the first half is intriguing. The film intentionally keeps the motives for her paranoia ambiguous before the big reveal. Her reaction to Marvin and Abigail’s presence is so extreme it made me wonder if she knew these people or whether she was acting out of internalized racism. In some scenes, we see her compulsively scratching at her wigs as they become unbearable, just like the rest of her fake life. A constant uneasiness in the background kept me at the edge of my seat for the entire runtime.
READ: Will there be a sequel to The Strays?
On the downside, I found Neve to be an extremely unlikable protagonist. Despite Ashley Madekwe’s excellent performance, at no point in the movie was I rooting for her. That’s probably the point, but it’s hard to feel invested in a story where you don’t like any of the characters. Her husband is a watery presence, while her two children are little more than extensions of herself. They all seem to accept everything she says without question, like puppets. It would have been nice if Martello-White gave these supporting characters personalities of their own.
When it comes to the social commentary aspect, it feels a bit forced. There are compelling moments, such as when Neve’s white friend makes a comment calling her “practically one of us” – practically, but not entirely—a stark reminder of how she’ll never fully belong. But then we get Neve’s intense meltdowns after seeing other black people inside her community, almost as if she hasn’t seen a black person since leaving her home in the first scene. It’s improbable for someone living in 21st-century Britain to go for several decades without coming across any people of color. Her reaction is so extreme it borders on ridiculous. There’s one scene where Marvin confronts her in the school’s bathroom, and the way it plays out makes it unclear if it happened or if she had a psychotic episode.
The rest of the cast did a great job, particularly Jorden Myrie as Marvin. He wears his anger perfectly, and you can’t help feeling the character will snap at any point. Bukky Bakray is fantastic as the childishly naive yet terrifying Abigail.
Is the 2023 film The Strays on Netflix good?
Overall, The Strays is a worthwhile thriller. While frustrating and over the top at times, it tells an interesting story and will keep you guessing until the very end. And the ending is as perfectly befitting as they come.
What did you think of the Netflix film The Strays? Comment below.