The Strays, a new psychological thriller on Netflix, mirrors its opening with an impactful ending – here’s a breakdown of what happens.
Nathaniel Martello-White’s new movie stars Secret Diary of a Call Girl and The Umbrella Academy’s Ashley Madekwe as Neve, a Stepford-sculpted British housewife dedicated to being seen as an upstanding, wealthy member of her local countryside community.
However, her peaceful, silver-spoon life with husband Ian (Justin Salinger), and teenage children, Sebastian (Samuel Small) and Mary (Maria Almeida), is slowly upended by the appearance of two mysterious figures: Marvin (Jorden Myrie) and Abigail (Bukky Bakray).
Soon, Neve’s paranoia begins to consume her – with good reason, and little interest in leaving quietly.
The Strays ending explained
The Strays ends just like it begins: after Ian is murdered in the home invasion, Neve abandons all four of her children and flees with a delivery driver, leaving them alone (again) without a mother.
As the local community gathers at Neve’s home for her charity gala, she catches sight of Carl and Dione (originally believed to be Marvin and Abigail) lurking at the back. Almost instantly, she loses her cool and causes quite a scene, at which point it’s revealed she’s actually their mother.
The whole first act is then recontextualized: the “Black girl” who started working for Ian was Dione; Mary’s dreads were done by Dione; and Carl gave Sebastian the cigarette and made him take revenge on the school bully by throwing a basketball on his face, which is why he returned home so late.
Neve explains how she was traumatized by Dione’s birth and didn’t want a second child. Her previous husband Michael was also abusive (although, as we saw when she beat Sebastian with her shoe, so was she), so she escaped and kept her past life a secret.
The family hesitantly agrees to move on, while Neve attempts to pay Carl and Dione off with £10,000 each. They feign graciousness and accept the money, before staging a “family reunion” a few weeks later for Dione’s birthday.
They break into the home in the middle of the night, steal all of their phones, flood the kitchen, and begin tormenting all of them. Carl asks Mary to order a Chinese in the middle of the night, and they sit down for a nail-biting game of scrabble. Carl then forces Ian to bench-press until he can’t anymore – by that, we mean the bar splatters through his head and kills him.
When the delivery driver arrives with the food, Neve tells him to wait so she can give him a tip. She grabs her purse and quietly leaves, shutting the door behind her. As Carl emerges from the home gym, only Neve’s children remain, and the last thing they hear is the roar of the motorbike driving away.
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Her two Strays have become four, and Neve herself is a stray – someone without a home, family, or sense of belonging anywhere, no matter how hard she faked it.
How The Strays director pulled off the ending
The “family reunion” sequence of The Strays was shot “live… like a play to keep the energy and mania of the experience completely immersive for the actors and audience,” according to producer Tristan Goligher.
Martello-White explained: “We stood down filming for a day and a half, and I rehearsed it as a play. I said to all the actors, ‘Please, please, please, please come prepared because we’re going to have to go and everybody’s going to have to be completely off book and know their cues.’
“I had to block the whole thing very quickly. And once we had the blocking, Adam, the cinematographer, and I asked, could this be done in one take? Is there a version of this that plays out in one continuous take? So, we covered it a few times in one take.
“But then, for insurance, we did singles of everybody. What you see in the movie is a splice of both. But what was important for me was that for everybody, in every take, it was a full experience of that scene. We never did a take that wasn’t the whole scene, whether that was a single or a master. The actors were always in it in an intense way.”
If you’re looking for a message to take away from the movie, it’s not aiming for a political statement. “For me, it’s about the way generational trauma spreads through a family,” the director said.
“Despite her color, had she come from a more stable, healthy, nurturing environment, both as a child and as a woman, she might not have left. So, when Cheryl leaves, it’s more about the impact that has. When Carl and Dione turn up, we see they’re the product of her abandonment and the life she ran away from. It feels like the politics of the movie sits in them as characters.”
The Strays is available to stream on Netflix now. Check out our review here.