The Strays combines elements of horror and drama to create a compelling mix but falls short of satisfying its many ambitious ideas.
The film’s confusing offerings can definitely have a bearing on the viewer. There are a lot of unresolved issues that the film only marginally touches upon, making its comprehension challenging. We will be discussing the twist ending that has fans in shock and how the film weaponizes desperation and helplessness to introduce violence at its core.
The Strays Plot Summary
Cheryl feels bogged down with the debt she and her partner Michael are in. Their unrestricted use of credit cards and extending their financial prowess have ensured that despite their professional success, they struggle for money.
Feeling out of options, Cheryl decides to abandon her family and leave this life behind to start a new one. Several years later, we see she is Neve Williams, the deputy headmistress of an affluent local private school and the mother of two beautiful light-skinned children, Mary and Sebastian.
Her husband Ian runs a successful insurance company, Brotherly Cover. Neve has hardly aged and hides her declining physical features with makeup and wigs. One day, she sees a black man – the only one in the entire neighbourhood – on the road. Tensions rise when she discovers Ian has hired another black girl at work.
Her most frightening nightmares are realized when she discovers the truth about their identity. Her new life spirals out of control and puts the life of her family in danger.
Why do Carl and Dione befriend Sebastian and Mary?
There were two underlying motives for the abandoned brother-sister duo to befriend the privileged duo. Firstly, it was because of their need to get closer to the family. They knew that Mary and Sebastian were the only outlets that could help them achieve their goal: getting back to their mother. If they would have gone directly to her, Cheryl would have taken them to the task. With Mary and Seb, they felt they had a safety net. The other reason was a more psychological one that one can derive from the facts presented to us.
It was Dione’s rant directed at Mary when they were partying in the hotel room that one can base this assumption on. She wanted to feel what Mary had and what she had missed all these years. The comforts that life had to offer to Mary were missing from Dione’s life and by her own admission, Dione wanted a taste of it. She was never tucked into bed by her mother or had a home-cooked warm given to her at the dining table. Mary was Cheryl’s “favourite” – the pampered and spoilt one, while Dione had to fight for every scrap.
We get a similar sense from what time Sebastian spent with Carl, although the latter was more honest in his intentions. He even struck up a friendship with Seb of sorts like the time Seb was cheered on by Carl in the basketball game. Some can argue he wanted to corrupt Seb and mentally harm him by making him an unwitting participant in his school bully’s murder.
But that seems a bit far-fetched as Carl was not emotionally turbulent like Dione. He did not crave attention but answers. He was more practical than Dione in this regard. A visual pointer of this could be when Cheryl had coffee with them. Dione extended her hand for support but Carl did not.
What is the plan with which Carl and Dione show up in town?
Carl and Dione came around five days into town before the central events in the film take place. They were abandoned as kids by Cheryl when she walked out on them due to rising debts and dwindling savings. The plan is unclear at first but their intentions come out on the day of the gala. Before befriending Mary and Seb, they had no idea how to contact Cheryl. But in the form of the gala, they found the perfect opportunity to confront her. That was their plan all along. It was not to get bought off or humiliate Cheryl for leaving them.
Their hearts craved the warmth of a mother, especially Dione. They perhaps wanted to become a part of her family again. Money was not a concern to them as is evident from the ending and their actions first being given the cheques by Cheryl. It was perhaps her hubris and desperation to give Carl and Dione cheques to get them out of her perfect life. She could not afford to see baggage from her past ruining things for her, even as Ian was of the opinion that they could make some sort of arrangement to keep them in the city.
Why does Neve try to buy off her own children?
It is Neve’s desperate attempts to salvage her new life and protect her family. Something tells us that it might be to protect herself first. When Carl and Dione create a scene at the charity gala, Neve comes out clean to her family. She is worried about how they will react but Ian supports her. So do Mary and Sebastian, showing that they truly love her.
Neve felt that this part of her previous life will derail her present life of privilege and excesses. She had put in way too much effort to make this new identity for herself and was content with how she was perceived by other people.
That validation and nod of approval was the ultimate craving she had. A part of the truth is reflected in how she mercilessly beat Seb when he came back late. She was not as worried about his safety than his fraternizing with Carl. She knew that the longer this bond marinated, the more the chance some harm comes to her.
This characteristic of her personality is also connected to how the ending of the film turns out to be, which is a great segue into the final segment of the piece.
What are the implications of Neve’s decisions?
The ending of the film begins with the segment “Family Reunion”, which has a dark truth behind it. While the William family is asleep, Dione and Carl break into their house. Since all of them are sleeping on the upper floor, they do not hear the duo coming in.
The first thing they do is take everyone’s phones and immerse them in water. Dione drew herself a bath in Mary’s room and Carl sat downstairs watching television. He even wore a robe as he rejected the idea of closing the water tap and the entire ground started flooding.
The family came down in due time and at first, Neve seemed to be panicky. When she saw what the children really needed, she changed her attitude completely and went on with a perception that she was completely calm.
The lack of control did not hurt Neve on this occasion. All six of them sat around the table and started playing scribble, in an attempt to make Dione’s birthday special. In this tangent, Carl also took orders from everyone about what they wanted to have “in the upcoming feast” on the occasion.
But Carl had enough of the niceties and proceeded with his plan; his anger, vengeance, and repressed energy came out heavily on Ian. It seemed unfair as Ian had no idea Neve had given Carl and Dione cheques to buy them off.
Ian seemed like a good man who was prepared to welcome the brother-sister duo into his family. But Carl had gone too far in his thought-making process that he could not turn back. He takes Ian to the gym and there, asks him to bench press. He keeps adding weight to his apparatus and it seems clear he wants to kill him in this symbolic manner.
Once Carl is gone, Neve feels she has an opportunity to be clever. Dione was not violent since the first moment she met Neve and the kids. This is perhaps what gave Neve the confidence to try what she did. When the delivery person came, she went out and brought the food inside. She was shocked to see Dione not coming with her or threatening her to stay quiet.
This clicked something in her mind and she decided to go upstairs, gather some money that she can use to start a new life, and escaped with the delivery person. Carl was back in the room with blood smeared on his clothes. Ian was dead.
When Cheryl did not come back, the four kids stood near the door and ventured out in disbelief: how easily Chery l decided to up and abandon all of them. Before leaving, Cheryl saw herself in the mirror, like she did in the prologue, and that was a motif of confrontation. It was as if she could not believe this was the kind of person she was.
By running again this time, she has left four children “astray” in life. It will be a lifetime of baggage and recovery for those kids. We cut right at the moment when they were standing together trying to absorb what happened. And that has been done deliberately to allow the viewer to come to their own conclusions.
There was not just one way to feel about the movie and the characters and that flexibility allows you to see the film end as you had seen it. Each version can have its dichotomy.
Read More: The Strays Movie Review