What to Watch Verdict
Ashley Madekwe plays a very unlikeable yet compelling protagonist in The Strays, and it's full of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Ashley Madekwe, Jorden Myrie and Bukky Bakray deliver brilliant performances
A well-written script keeps you guessing and not knowing who to trust
It's beautifully shot and has some picturesque locations and nice costume design
It's slow paced and has time jumps so you really need to pay close attention, which might not be to everyone's liking
The ending is quite abrupt
The Strays is the debut feature length movie from British director Nat Martello-White, and follows a seemingly normal affluent family whose lives are seriously disrupted by two suspicious new arrivals.
The story centers around Neve (Ashley Madekwe), a deputy headmistress at a private school who lives with her husband and two children. She seems to have it all: the perfect hair, the fashionable wardrobe, the luxury car. But Neve is hiding something.
Neve is also an intensely unlikeable character. She controls her children's styles and tastes, refuses to pay for service charge in a restaurant, and seems fixated on achieving perfection in all areas of her life. It's interesting to have a protagonist this dislikable, and audiences will no doubt form their own opinions even before we learn what's really going on.
Her life seems fairly normal until two occurrences leave her on edge. One day at dinner, Neve's husband Ian (Justin Salinger) tells her that he's hired a young Black girl from out of town, and Neve isn't exactly enthusiastic about this. Not long after, she spots a new hire at the school and seems spooked by his arrival. Something's definitely not right here.
In fact, Neve does everything in her power to keep her family away from the newcomers. She yells at her son Sebastian (Samuel Small) for talking to the new janitor, and doesn't seem interested in Ian's latest hire either, hoping to keep them both at arms length and even tries to get the new janitor fired from her school.
However, her efforts aren't going very well and both Sebastian and Neve's daughter Mary (Maria Almeida) befriend the newcomers, who compliment them and stick up for them against school bullies, meaning they're much happier with them than being around their controlling mother.
Quickly, things take a dark turn and Neve starts acting more and more erratically. Sebastian comes home very late after a basketball watch one day and even though Ian scolds him for not saying where he was, Neve lashes out at her son quite violently and has incredibly intense nightmares soon after, which appears to be very out of character for her. Or is it?
The two mysterious newcomers, Marvin (Jorden Myrie) and Abigail (Bukky Bakray) seem to know Neve already, and a bombshell revelation at the end of the first part will surely have audiences gripped and wanting to learn more, and this is where the movie really gets interesting.
It's best to go into The Strays knowing as little as possible, because it's a tightly wound thriller with lots to unravel, and it delivers plenty of shocks as it goes along. A brilliantly written script forces you to make your own mind up about characters, and your allegiance might shift throughout the course of the story, keeping things interesting.
The Strays is well-shot visually too, with lots of picturesque settings that provide a pleasant backdrop for such a dark storyline. Even in a town full of wealth, big cars and fancy houses, no one is truly safe, and Neve can't run from her past.
Even though we get a good look at all of the characters in The Strays, lead actress Ashley Madekwe truly shines as the shifty protagonist whose perfectly curated life is slipping away from her. She goes from being perfectly polished, to spiraling out of control, and Madekwe's performance is truly stunning.
The movie raises some interesting questions and explores themes like class, race, prejudice and gender, asking the audiences some tough questions and asking them to be put in the characters' shoes.
Having said that, the film is let down slightly by its abrupt ending which might be a frustrating experience for some viewers, but others might like the sense of uncertainty. Either way, it's a minor criticism for such an effective debut feature.
The Strays is available to watch on Netflix now.
Lucy joined the WhatToWatch.com team in 2021, where she writes series guides for must-watch programmes, reviews and the latest TV news. Originally from Northumberland, she graduated from Oxford Brookes University with a degree in Film Studies and moved to London to begin a career writing about entertainment.
She is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic and has a huge passion for cinema. She especially loves horror, thriller and anything crime-related. Her favourite TV programmes include Inside No 9, American Horror Story, Stranger Things and Black Mirror but she is also partial to a quiz show or a bit of Say Yes to the Dress!