Quibi’s The Stranger is another decent “web series” that’s been neglected by the public, in part because of the failed platform it appears on, but also because of the Netflix series bearing the same name. Quibi’s The Stranger stars Maika Monroe as Clare, a budding writer and “Orbit” rideshare driver who’s just moved to Los Angeles from Kansas. Her fare Carl E. (played by Dane DeHaan) tells her he’s killed a family at the house she picked him up from, and once he discovers that Clare is a writer, he forces her to tell him a story… and if the story is good, he won’t kill her.
Once seemingly rid of Carl, Clare meets JJ (played by Avan Jogia) a gas station attendant and all-round good-guy who becomes involved in a murder, mistaken identity and the ensuing police manhunt. The three actors are great in each of their roles; Monroe plays a sympathetic, lonely and friendless, mentally-fragile, vegan writer. DeHaan, with his cat-like eyes and fish-like mouth, makes for a threatening, sociopathic (or psychopathic) villain, and Jogia is perfect as the endearing friend, potential love interest, and accessory after the fact.
Written and directed by Veena Sud, The Stranger feels like an ’80s movie, especially with the minimal, young cast, and the sometimes moody, synth score. There’s something very enjoyable and atmospheric about a film set at night with an impending dawn as the conclusion. Like After Hours (1985) or the often forgotten The Night Before (1988) and even Desperate Measures (1998), The Stranger utilises this urban-night-time setting to great effect and the Los Angeles locale adds to the twentieth-century-esque feel. Taking place over 12 hours, the first episode is titled “7:00 PM”, with each subsequent episode taking place an hour later, with the thirteenth and final episode occurring at “7:00 AM”.
This film-slash-series fits into a relatively recent sub-genre of “ridesharing” movies. The Stranger is of course nothing like Stuber but it’s superior to the other recent rideshare thriller Spree (although Joe Keery was superb in it). Given its premise and direction, The Stranger begins with oodles of atmosphere and thanks to the extremely likeable and amiable lead, you want to know more once each scene comes to a close. Like Monroe’s other film Greta, this is a movie with a female lead, which sadly, is still a rarity in Hollywood. But I digress.
The first episode is immensely captivating and compelling. Having not watched or read anything about The Stranger, I was expecting it to be an anthology, with Clare telling Carl various stories a la Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965). Once it became clear that this wasn’t the case, I then thought it was a movie about mental illness, and it is, but that’s not really honed-in on. There’s some commentary on police brutality and racism (“I can’t breathe” – “Stop resisting!”), a line about sexism and misogyny (“you can’t have it both ways; you can’t expect men to open the door for you cunts and then whine that we don’t treat you like equals”), but these are fleeting moments. The mysterious and seemingly ever-present passenger “Carl E.” is an anagram of “Clare” which means they’re cosmically linked or it’s her alter ego, but the antagonist’s omnipresence fails to have a satisfying conclusion and to top it off, the Wizard Of Oz references never really go anywhere. Thanks to the cast and director however, none of this matters too much. I just enjoyed the unfolding narrative and the atmosphere, regardless of how many u-turns and dead-ends it took me down.
This is not your bog-standard rideshare thriller, it’s not exactly an art house film either, so some people might be put off by the meandering storyline which is thrilling and intriguing in parts and slightly surreal in others. No matter how much I like this movie, the ending is a real let-down; an annoying anti-climax to what is, up to that point, a superior mystery-crime-thriller. SPOILER ALERT: Carl it transpires, is not a personality of Clare, or a figment of her imagination, and he’s not really a serial killer either, and even though he can see what Clare can see and knows her every move, apparently it’s all down to the perils of modern technology… yawn (although, how do you change a text tone by hacking a phone?). Aside from this technophobe finale, this is still one of the best shows on Quibi, although I know that’s not saying much given the mountain of trash and a paltry two watchable films (so far). Even though there may be diamonds among a gigantic heap of coal, I can’t justify the £7.99 per month subscription cost for Quibi, a service that has less content than Netflix (which costs more) and approximately the same amount of programming as Apple TV+ (which costs less).
Quibi’s Most Dangerous Game is slow to start and The Stranger has a disappointing ending, but they’re both enjoyable to watch, and they both would benefit from a cinema release. I and many others would appreciate it if Quibi at the very least, releases this movie (yes, movie) on blu-ray, given that its 103 minute 18 second runtime is a perfect length for a film (if someone edits it together that is). Even though The Stranger has its plot-based issues, it’s an entertaining thrill-ride that is better viewed as a (constantly-interrupted) movie than an episodic series with lengthy gaps between viewings.
Given its floundering start, if Quibi fails to recoup their investment and goes into administration, what will become of this and its other offerings? Their flagship shows, including this one, are destined to be cult classics. Even though lots of people are missing out on watching a handful of entertaining movies because of a poorly-thought-out and poorly-promoted platform, these films will be sorely missed if Quibi goes tits-up.