Stream It Or Skip It: ‘The Stranger’ on Hulu, A Quibi Series Turned Questionable Feature Film

Remember Quibi? It was an easy punchline (or punching bag) in the early days of COVID when a platform structured around Qui(ck) Bi(tes) that could be watched either vertically or horizontally flopped spectacularly. But many solid talents produced the platform’s first batch of content, and it did not deserve to disappear entirely into the ether. Enter Veena Sud’s The Stranger, a feature-length re-edit of her series that would have otherwise been relegated to the dustbins of the streaming era.

The Gist: Maika Monroe’s Claire is a rideshare driver for “Orbit” (a clever mishmash of Uber and Lyft) taking Dane De Haan’s Carl to LAX. She should have known she was in for quite the trip when Carl insists on sitting up front, and her attempts at pleasant conversation quickly derail as Carl details a series of murders he’s just committed. A wreck seems to get rid of Carl, but he keeps finding ways to torment her physically and psychologically. Using any manner of devices, he stalks Claire mercilessly as she tries to escape his reach. Over one hectic night that spans until sunrise, she tries to stay one step ahead of her brutalizing foe only to find it seems like he’s predicted her exact next move.

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Collateral for the smartphone set.

Performance Worth Watching: Remember when Dane De Haan was about to be Hollywood’s go-to creepy guy 10 years ago? (Did Barry Keoghan market correct for him?) Either way, The Stranger is a reminder of what we’ve been missing – and, apparently, only Christopher Nolan in casting Oppenheimer remembered.

THE STRANGER DANE DEHAAN
Photo: Everett Collection

Memorable Dialogue: It’s a menacing text message that really steals the show, using a memorable nickname to lambast Claire: “SHOULDA RUN ME OVER WHEN U HAD THE CHANCE NANCY PELOSI! #DumbShitScaryMovieBitchesDo”

Sex and Skin: A blow-up sex doll makes a memorable appearance, but otherwise, nothing of the sort.

Our Take: It’s easy to feel the unnatural rhythm of a shortform series being force-fit into a feature. Roughly every 8 minutes or so, The Stranger features an artificial mini-climax or cliffhanger that seems to lead to a soft reset. The constant changes of scenery become incredibly overstimulating when stuffed into a single sitting. Similarly, the merciless omnipresence of Carl begins to strain credulity at points when all his treachery plays consecutively.

But the biggest flaw of The Stranger is that this iteration of the story feels like it missed its moment of relevancy. Sud’s deployment of the algorithm as the truest source of horror has the aura of post-Cambridge Analytica panic written all over it. While this project technically precedes the algorithm villains of Tenet and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, the feature version of this story now regrettably lives in their shadow.

Our Call: SKIP IT. The Stranger never overcomes the limitations of its original format of synthetic, episodic scenes. Though Monroe and De Haan are talented actors, they’re trapped playing derivative and generic beats within a familiar horror-thriller cloaked in faux contemporary relevancy.

Marshall Shaffer is a New York-based freelance film journalist. In addition to Decider, his work has also appeared on Slashfilm, Slant, The Playlist and many other outlets. Some day soon, everyone will realize how right he is about Spring Breakers.

Watch The Stranger on Hulu

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