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Home > The Strays (2023): A Review

The Strays (2023): A Review

The Strays

Eye-Opening Retribution

Welcome to The Strays, where pretending to be someone you are not is a prescription in horror. Just ask The Stray’s heroine, Neve. Years ago, Neve, or Cheryl as she was known then, spent a lifetime running away from home, but that which caused her mental instability and post-traumatic stress disorder now refuses to be ignored. She learns past wrongs against family will always haunt us with that which we refuse to face. After her quiet but noticeable departure, Neve worked tirelessly to be someone different and succeeded at achieving a life admirable to all. Still, her children from her life before want to understand, and they will not stop until they get what they came for. 

The plot of this film is an utterly unique telling of the heroine who is ashamed of everything she is. Cheryl, now known as Neve, creates an all-new life, and her past shows up rather unexpectedly to wreak havoc on her creations. It’s quite painful as the audience must witness her past, demanding reasons and explanations. The past eventually demands retribution. How much can our past mistakes ruin our lives, and for how long? These are just a few of the questions that The Strays bring to mind. With a reminder that we all have made terrible mistakes, how much do we deserve to pay for what we’ve done?

The Strays was directed by first-time full-length British film director Nathaniel Martello-White and produced by Air Street Films and The Bureau. Released on February 22nd, 2023, The Strays stars Ashley Madekwe, Bukky Bakray, and Jordan Myrie. This Netflix original thriller/drama is rated TV-MA for no apparent reason except for language and a smidge of sexuality. 

A Unique Film Banking on Empathy

The Strays is completely unapologetic in its ability to create the unexpected. The trailers and still pictures available for this film do not prepare the audience for the intensity created by what begins as a dry look into the life of a suburban wife trying to get ahead. Neve is beautiful, brilliant, well put together, and has no hair out of place, but cracks begin to break open her facade pretty early. She’s been living a life of quiet desperation, literally. Initially, no one in her life suspects she is not who she says she is. It appears that Cheryl/Neve just wants a life better than the one she was living previously. 

The plot was coherent, timely, and paced well, in general. It would be great to understand better the life from which Cheryl ran. Her older children show up as extraordinary mysteries, and there are a lot of details the audience doesn’t get to know. Both older children get jobs and get pretty comfortable, with these details adding to the intrigue very quickly. Understandably, Marvin and Abigail are angry and lack basic empathy for all involved except themselves, both hinting at a difficult life previously to the audience having met them. Neve, for her part, appears to be a generally good person, albeit a bit selfish in the face of difficulty, who just made some terrible mistakes, but she doesn’t seem to learn from the consequences. It’s most compelling to see Madekwe play Neve as a woman who begins the film strong and stoic, only to show that she is emotionally delicate as Cheryl. 

The Strays

The most interesting part of this film is that it has some of the feels of a live stage show. Of course, the director and many of the actors came from a theatrical background, which gave the film an interesting perspective. The setting doesn’t make it clear that it’s a suburb of London, but that doesn’t affect the plot very much. Nothing and no one is as expected, making the movie all the better for it. 

The Strays Makes The Characters’ Presence Known

This film relies heavily on the acting, but oh boy, these actors all outdid themselves in their roles and probably did one of the best performances of their careers. Ashley Madekwe is stunning as her character Neve begins to unravel. It adds to the foreshadowing when it’s evident that the way she is acting is not just paranoia. Jordan Myrie and Bukky Bukray, who play Marvin and Abigail, can play the quiet psychopaths in a way that has rarely been done before. These characters are not just scary – they are emotionally unhinged. 

The Strays

Justin Salinger, who plays Neve’s husband Ian, is a vapid, silly man who doesn’t contribute much to solving problems within the plot. In contrast, it is notable and interesting that the audience can empathize with him when the rage is turned on him. Samuel Paul Small and Maria Almeida, who play Neve’s younger teenagers, Sebastian and Mary, do an award-worthy job acting as seemingly well-adjusted children with no idea what is happening. As children learn at this age, they only know that parents are people too. Parents can be cruel and careless, and there is little room left for parental heroes.  

A Picture is Worth Five Million Eye-Opening Words 

Cinematographer and director of photography Adam Scarth did an excellent job with the cinematography. The colors are sharp and scenes do what they need to do by speaking where words cannot. Often, soundtracks inject more emotion into a film, and this movie didn’t need any help with emotions. Still, the songs on the soundtrack are appropriately haunting.

The Fair & Final Warning to Repair the Heart

Anyone should see this film again and again. It’s delightful and horrifying in its never ending thrillingness. The Strays is available now on Netflix. 

The Strays (2023) Official Netflix Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Elke Simmons' writing portfolio includes contributions to The Laredo Morning Times, Walt Disney World Eyes and Ears, Extinction Rebellion (XR) News/Blog, and Dead Talk News.