Inspired by Jordan Peele’s movies Us and Get Out with a dash of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and Hidden, Netflix’s new thriller The Strays explores the dark psychology around someone living a double life.
Created by Nathaniel Martello-White in his feature film debut, the story focuses on private school deputy head Neve (Ashley Madekwe) who’s privileged life with her husband Ian (Justin Salinger) and their two children Sebastian (Samuel Small) and Mary (Maria Almeida) begins to fall apart when some shadowy figures arrive in their small town. Played by Bukky Bakray and Jorden Myrie, the new arrivals wreak havoc on Neve’s carefully constructed life, to some disastrous effects.
Delving any more into what happens will cross into spoiler territory, but it's fair to say things get quite weird as Martello-White’s Netflix movie grapples with race, class, and generational trauma. "It’s such a strong script," Neve star Ashley Madekwe raves to GamesRadar+ about the movie. "It’s a story that I haven’t seen told before from a perspective I hadn’t even thought of."
"There are so many layers to all of them, and the way that the narrative unfolds is a really interesting way of telling the story too," agrees her co-star Jorden Myrie, who plays Marvin in the movie. For more on the film’s genre-twisting narrative and inspirations, check out our Q&A with the cast below, edited for length and clarity.
The Strays has a lot of horror and thriller touchstones but is also about flipping a lot of the genre to keep audiences guessing. Was this something that appealed to you about the project?
Ashley Madekwe: It kind of defies genre in a way. There are horror elements but that’s only in the first act, and then you realize, ‘oh this is something else, this is maybe a family drama’. And then in the last act, it’s a thriller, it becomes its own entity.
Nathaniel [Martello-White, director] and I spoke about how often in horror movies there’s that classic trope of characters being gaslit, are they really seeing what they think they’re seeing? Are the audience seeing that? I love that in the second act, you see that she's not seeing what she thinks she's seeing, and these are two human beings that she's seeing. Then you see it through the other horror character’s perspectives.
Jorden Myrie: Yes, you see it through our perspective, and you get to learn a bit more about us and our journey. That's, again, what really drew you into it because you get to see all those different angles and learn more about them.
We also meet these characters at particular points in their story. And we do learn a lot about them as you say, but there are a lot of gaps. For example, we have a big break in Neve/Cheryl’s life – how much did you work on kind of building the backstory between that?
Ashley Madekwe: A lot. Nathaniel has his idea – he’s going to kill me for saying this – of what Neve’s backstory is. I have my idea of what that backstory is. I think sometimes it's a good idea not to share that with the other actors and the director and to not share the things that you're doing to get you to the point of that scene, because it's really nobody's business as long as the end result is the same. It’s also part of the fun of creating the backstory.
Jorden Myrie: Yeah, it informs what you're going to do and how you respond to other characters. And I know we talked in between scenes, we talked a lot about filling up the blanks like, ‘what do you think?’
Ashley Madekwe: And we have to make it make sense for us because that would have one version, and then we'd be like that doesn’t work for us.
Nathaniel has spoken about being inspired by Jordan Peele's movies Get Out and Us, and also home invasion movies like Funny Games. Did he give you any homework to do?
Jorden Myrie: He told us about his inspirations for it, and said, 'I think you guys should watch it.' So you can kind of get an idea of mentally where I'm coming from.
Ashley Madekwe: I watched a couple of Michael Haneke films because those were great visual references. I watched both versions of Funny Games because he directed both of those, I love that. I think it's good if your director has strong references for you because speaking about it is one thing, but you kind of really have to see it, and I appreciate that.
The Strays is out on Netflix now. For what else to watch, check out our guides to the best Netflix movies and the best Netflix shows.