Film Review: “The Strays”


Screengrab from: "The Strays"

Ashley Madekwe stars in the drama/thriller “The Strays”. The film follows a woman who begins to question her sanity when strange things begin to happen.

Elly Herrick, Online Editor

What lengths would someone go to when searching for their perfect life? 

Writer and director Nat Martello-White’s debuted his British psychological horror film “The Strays” on Netflix on Feb. 22, 2023. The film offers a unique and refreshing twist to the found family trope. 

According to protagonist Cheryl, she has never been dealt the cards she wanted in life. 

“Is it wrong to want more?” She questions her friend over the phone.

After leaving a note on the fridge that she’s going to work, Cheryl takes one last look in the mirror before she runs away from her life and perfectly crafts a new one. 

Now named Neve, she is a biracial woman living in a rich upper-middle-class home and works as a headmistress for a private school.

While her life seems perfect and fulfilling, it’s more so a performance from Neve. When she holds a fundraiser at her home she is hit with the impact of running away. She is met by Carl and Dione, her kids from her life as Cheryl. Were they searching for their mother or for revenge?

The film presents interesting themes such as trying to escape her biracial background and betrayal of others and herself. I really enjoyed how this movie expressed this and questioned it. 

“The two worlds don’t mix,” Neve explains to her second family, “I did what I had to do, what fathers do all the time.”

Neve tries her best to keep each ‘world’ separate, but seemingly cannot run away anymore once she is up against her past.

For the first half of the film, you are led to believe that Neve can be an unreliable narrator. While going about her everyday life, she catches glimpses of the children she abandoned in her past. Thinking that she is seeing things, Neve begins to take more and more of her medication. I thought the film was going to take that plot point till the end. I was hoping they would try to twist it and make what Neve was seeing part of her psychological break. I wanted the movie to go into why she left in the first place and use that guilt to prolong this seemingly schizophrenic breakdown as punishment for abandoning her children. But the movie turns into a revenge plot between Carl and Dione. I think more could have been discovered if they focused more on Neve’s guilt as a mother. It is really glossed over and Neve doesn’t change at all throughout the film. This is most likely why it got mixed reviews.

“The Strays” received 52 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 28 percent audience score. After reading reviews, I’ve seen why it was that way. The ending of the movie is not the ending that people want. In movies, we are used to seeing growth and change in a character, but Neve skips that step. Neve and Cheryl are really the same people, just in different clothes. I thought the end twist was very ironic and fitting. I really enjoy movies that don’t tie everything in a neat bow and allows you to think more about what could happen. 

I would describe the film as a psychological film rather than a horror film. There are faint elements of a horror movie, but it does not quite get there all the way. To me, the film is more of a statement of erasing black culture in order to accommodate a white society, but with murder.

Some of the side plots with Neve’s kids I found a little weird. I didn’t see a point in having Carl and Doine interact with Sebastion and Mary. It didn’t really add to the story in any way, it just felt like filler or that I was just waiting for something to progress the story.

The movie was really saved by the cinematic shots that create an eerie and horror mood. The use of switching points of view and prolonging shots really enhances the viewer experience and allows for what has happened to really sink in. The use of heavy symbolism in the film was remarkable as well. Lots of small things in the film all came together to create a film, not about guilt or murder, but an interesting take on starting over and what that really means.

Do you really know the people you love?