‘The Stranger,’ streaming, Quibi

By Chris Byrd

NEW YORK (CNS) — Acclaimed showrunner Veena Sud (“Seven Seconds”) wrote, directed and executive-produced “The Stranger.” This mystifyingly bad — indeed, ludicrous — feature film airs in 13 eight-minute chapters on the new platform Quibi.

For those unfamiliar with it, former Walt Disney Studios head Jeffrey Katzenberg’s venture was launched April 6. Acknowledging the public’s progressively shortening attention span, Quibi features episodes of 10 minutes or less. Viewers can access programming on their phones and tablets, but not on their laptops or TVs.

Quibi will be free for the next three months. After that, a basic monthly subscription will cost $4.99. Ads currently accompany programming, so Quibi may not be for viewers who find that annoying or don’t like watching shows on smaller devices. Those inclined to give Quibi a chance will have to hope “The Stranger” doesn’t represent the platform’s overall quality.

With its multiple stabbings and shootings, as well as a steady stream of vulgarity — including some offensive misogynistic language — the movie ranks as marginally acceptable grown-up fare.

Maika Monroe stars in a scene from the horror series “The Stranger,” being streamed on the new platform Quibi. (CNS Photo/courtesy Quibi)

To say, from the outset, that Sud lays it on thick and strains viewers’ credulity doesn’t adequately describe her missteps.

The opening chapter introduces us to Clare (Maika Monroe). Although this twenty-something Kansas native has only been living in Los Angeles for a week, she’s already landed a job driving for the Uber-like Orbit company.

Summoned to the storied Hollywood Hills neighborhood, Clare picks up Carl (Dane DeHaan), who deposits his suitcase in the back seat, then promptly and suspiciously makes himself at home in the front. Viewers will immediately wonder how likely it is that even a supposedly naive Midwesterner would allow a man she’s never met before to sit next to her in this context.

The audaciously familiar way Carl wipes mustard off Clare’s chin is sufficiently creepy. But the gesture quickly pales in comparison to his announcement that he has just murdered an entire family, shooting the parents and slitting the children’s throats.

As though she were a 21st-century Scheherazade, the self-confessed “sociopath” next informs Clare, an aspiring writer, that if she wants to live, she must tell him a story. Instead, Clare deliberately crashes her car and leaves a bloody and seriously injured Carl behind on the side of the road.

A 911 dispatcher guides Clare to a convenience store parking lot where LAPD officers Carter (Derrick McMillon) and Bronlow (Rob James) are waiting to take her report.

Searching her car for the dismembered body of a child she claims Carl left there, however, the partners find an inflatable doll instead. Warning Clare about the penalty for filing a false report, they send her on her way.

Nor are the police alone in rejecting her story. After Carl accuses Clare of attacking him, Orbit fires her. And even her own mother (uncredited) doesn’t believe her because she knows that Clare once falsely accused a teacher of sexual assault.

Clare finds her only ally in Indian American convenience store clerk JJ (Avan Jogia). When her tormentor attempts to frame Clare for two killings, the improvised duo goes on the run, trying to stay a step ahead of the cops and the psychopath.

“The Stranger” emphasizes Carl’s use of technology — Google maps, hacking and algorithms — to menace his victims. Viewers understand that deviant people can utilize the latest innovations to do evil. But the movie fails to address a much more basic issue: How could a man left for dead and lacking transportation be physically capable of pursuing his persecution of Clare?

Sud also belabors Clare’s connection to Dorothy Gale, the youthful heroine of “The Wizard of Oz.” Thus Clare has a little terrier which, mercifully, isn’t named Toto, but Pebbles. The script’s multiple “you’re not in Kansas anymore” references, moreover, soon grow tiresome.

Those who admire Sud’s previous work can only await her return to form after this preposterous clunker.

Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.


Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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