The Stranger review: Netflix’s twisting thriller doesn’t live up to the hype
Mike Williams | On 27, Feb 2020Reading time: 2 mins
This review is spoiler-free.
Another day, another Netflix series. Only this time we remain firmly on British shores rather than abscond to the US. The Stranger is a quintessentially British drama that promises a lot in its tense, slickly cut trailer. It doesn’t exactly kick off with a bang, rather a mysterious, Wicker Man-style opening that does a solid job of throwing us off the scent before the opening credits have even kicked in.
Thereafter, we’re eased into the mundane, suburban family life of the Prices – dad Adam (Richard Armitage), mum Corrine (Dervla Kirwan), and sons Thomas (Jacob Dudman) and Ryan (Misha Handley) – where school football, teacher conferences, and familiarly English characters are shoehorned into a first act that feels like a typical BBC-produced series.
It’s this aesthetic that runs through the core of this peaks-and-trough thriller-drama. In stark contrast to shows produced by the likes of HBO, some very English series can lack the nuance, wit, and complexity of many successes from across the Atlantic, and it’s here that The Stranger stumbles.
The writing’s contrived and often cringeworthy, meaning any build-up of tension can immediately be extinguished by a tacky or misplaced line of horrendous dialogue. Thankfully, the scripting, and the story, becomes tighter and gets into a much better rhythm after the first couple of episodes. However, that’s not to suggest that The Stranger gets significantly better or climaxes in an unforgettable crescendo; instead, we’re offered a series of revelatory plot points during the bulk of its middle episodes.
Looking beyond the programme’s obvious nature in how it presents its leads and the situations they find themselves in, the series possesses all the finesse of a hippo in an antiques shop. It’s this dumbing-down approach that ruins any genuine chance it has of elevating itself.
Likewise, the acting’s sketchy at points, showing only glimpses of its potential due to uninspired and safe direction, courtesy of Daniel O’Hara and Hannah Quinn – think the pacing and tone of something along the lines of Waterloo Road but with added dark overtones and you’ve pigeon-holed this uninspiring rollercoaster through its debut season. But that’s not to deceive anyone into believing The Stranger is the Space Mountain of TV or has its fair share of corkscrews; it’s more of a ride that ascends slowly, bullets over for a second, then halts the brakes to a predictable stop.
The Stranger is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.