The Stranger Review | No Place Like Quibi

If you were on the internet earlier this year, around April 2020 to be exact, you've probably seen an ad for Quibi. It seemed that everywhere you looked there was some mention of the new streaming app and its targeted audience. Quibi, which started in August of 2018, was founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg to create short-form content that was made to be consumed on mobile devices. In theory, shorter episodes would make it easier for viewers to watch an episode during their break at work or on the commute back home. Since it's launch Quibi has become home to several original shows starring big-name actors like Kifer Sutherland in The Fugitive, Liam Hemsworth, and Christoph Waltz in Most Dangerous Game, Anna Kendrick in Dummy, and more. One such original show is The Stranger, starring Dane DeHaan, and Maika Monroe, which premiered on Quibi on April 13, 2020. Now while I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't really excited about Quibi to begin with, when I got the chance to watch a free special screening of The Stranger, I was willing to give it a try. And, well, let's talk about that.

Before I talk about the story, I do want to mention that for the purpose of the screening, the credits were cut after each episode and replaced by a few seconds of black. This means the series became essentially a 1 hr 43 min movie for us. The Stranger begins fairly simple. A young woman named Clare (Maika Monroe), who just moved to Los Angeles to become a writer, becomes a driver for a ride-sharing service called Orbit to earn some money. She picks up a young man, Carl E (Dane DeHaan), and after a few moments of pleasantries where we get to learn some of Clare's backstory, Carl pulls out a knife and threatens to kill her if she doesn't tell him a good story. This is where the could be rom-com quickly reveals itself as its true genre of thriller.

Clare, after escaping from Carl, attempts to do the smart thing and go to the Police, but Carl is seemingly always one step ahead. And this is where we meet the show's second-best character, JJ (Avan Jogia). He is a friendly cashier at the local gas station who sets himself up as a likable character from the moment he opens his mouth. Clare then goes back to her apartment, and we are introduced to the best character, Pebbles, her pet Yorkie. But soon Clare realizes Pebbles may not be the only one waiting for her in her residence. This is when the cat and mouse chase around LA begins.

I was far more invested in The Stranger than I expected to be, which did lead to some frustrating moments when the characters make a few cliche horror protagonist mistakes. However, despite Clare leaving Pebbles alone multiple times and some characters being too trusting of others, I was always hoping that the characters made it out alive. This is in large part due to the performances from the entire cast, but the writing deserves a lot of credit as well. Although the cliches are a part of the movie, the plot doesn't just rely on them, and writer/director Veena Sud manages to strike a balance between engaging scenarios and some silly fun. All while still tackling some serious issues.

The Stanger's overall theme revolves around the narrow blurred line that separates our real-life personas from our online counterparts that makes judging a person's true reality complicated. It can be easy to look at someone's social media and make assumptions about their lifestyle or mental state. This message is delivered through Carl's eerie level of knowledge on Clare's entire life and the predictions he makes about her using his mysterious algorithm. There is also an underlying commentary on police treatment of people of color, even featuring a line from JJ that became all too real a little over a month after the show was released.

Let's talk more about the structure. As I mentioned earlier, my screening presented the show as an hour and forty-three minute movie, but on Quibi, The Stranger is comprised of 13 episodes, which can be watched in both vertical and horizontal orientation. The separation of episodes allows for the series to move at a very quick pace because, with the episodes being under a 10-minute time constraint, Veena Sud has to carefully choose what's on-screen and what gets cut. It's hard to say if this format works for all genres, but for thrillers, this pacing keeps the momentum going. This also makes The Stranger easily digestible as both a long movie or an episodic series. After watching the series, and seeing the actually fairly good quality of its content, something I honestly didn't expect from the commercials I saw in early 2020, I can say that Quibi has my interest. If quarantine ever ends, which I doubt more and more each day, and I have to go back to a regular workspace, Quibi is a service I truly might consider getting. 

The Stranger is available on the Quibi app for $4.99/mo with ads or $7.99/mo without ads. You can watch the first full episode here. And there is a 14-day trial available for Quibi for anyone wanting to test the waters first.

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