Netflix: The Strays and its haunting, gut-wrenching ending

The Strays. Ashley Madekwe as Neve in The Strays. Cr. Chris Harris/Netflix © 2023
The Strays. Ashley Madekwe as Neve in The Strays. Cr. Chris Harris/Netflix © 2023 /

I had two reactions to the end of The Strays:

  1. “Oh no! She didn’t!”
  2. “Wait. That’s how they’re ending it?”

Based on Netflix’s genre listings alone, you might not realize The Strays fits into more boxes than just “Social Issue Dramas” and “British Dramas.” But upon watching the trailer, which evokes a bit of The Strangers vibe, you can also appreciate why there’s only one word to sum up the “This movie is” categorization: ominous.

And when you watch the movie, you realize, yes. The Strays definitely tackles social issues, ones that are also recognizable here in the United States. And as far as ominous? Insert shiver here. This hybrid social/slow burn/psychological horror absolutely oozes with sinister menace —disguised behind all the frippery of upper-middle-class suburban life.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

A look at The Strays

The Strays cast
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 20: (L-R) Samuel Small, Maria Almeida, Ashley Madekwe, Jorden Myrie and Justin Salinger attend a special screening of ‘The Strays’ at BFI Southbank on February 20, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Netflix) /

The Strays begins with a despondent woman named Cheryl sitting on her couch talking on the phone with her sister. It becomes clear from the conversation that money is an issue and that Cheryl has trouble with overspending.

But it’s beyond that. From the fancy people on the TV program playing in the background, as well as other parts of the conversation, we glean Cheryl isn’t happy with her lot in life. She wants more. And she’s determined to do what it takes to get that and stop the craving inside her.

Ignoring her sister’s pleas, she does just that.

Fast forward some years in the future and we meet Neve (Ashley Madekwe), the well-coifed version of the woman formerly known as Cheryl. She lives in a beautiful house, with a handsome and well-off white husband, and two lovely teenagers.

Wonderful! She’s made her dreams come true. We might be inspired by her success, if we didn’t have the sinking feeling that she paid a high price to get there.

Yet, maybe she didn’t do what we fear she did. She does have her kids, after all.

The trouble is, she encourages them to be as white as possible in all aspects of their being. Yet, even though they’re lighter skinned, and her daughter Mary (Maria Almeida) sports blond hair, her kids aren’t ashamed of being Black. In fact, they’re proud of it and can’t understand their mother’s insistence on denying their heritage every chance she gets.

But pretty soon, no matter how much she wants to, Neve can’t deny who she really is. Two new Black people suddenly arrive in the predominantly white suburb where Neve and her family live. Marvin (Jorden Myrie) takes a job at the school where her kids go and where she teaches. Abigail (Bukky Bakray) finds employment at Neve’s husband’s office.

Soon Marvin befriends her son Sebastian (Samuel Paul Small) and Abigail does the same with Mary, much to Neve’s chagrin. And it isn’t long after that when Marvin and Abigail reveal who they really are.

Well, Neve’s suspected who they are, but they confirm it in a spectacular and public way during a fundraiser in the family’s backyard. They announce to everyone they are her first kids, the ones she abandoned when she ran away to craft a new upscale life.

A mother purposely abandoning her kids is horrifying enough. But it’s even more so because she wanted a “better” life. One they wouldn’t fit into because they were “too black.”

Her current family, who had no idea about her past life, grand ambitions or racism, are as shocked and horrified as everyone else to meet the true Neve. But that’s nothing compared to what they feel when Marvin and Abigail decide to force an assimilation between themselves and Neve’s new family in a way that gives fresh meaning to “home invasion.”

The horrifying ending of The Strays

The ending of The Strays had me so tense with anticipation and dread. I knew something bad was brewing, but what?

Not that we’re overtly shown that Neve’s wonderful husband Ian (Justin Salinger) dies, but it’s definitely implied. He didn’t deserve that.

Ian’s death is bad enough, but then it gets so much worse when Neve née Cheryl does it again. She just ups and leaves her kids! Both the first ones, Marvin and Abigail, and her second ones, Sebastian and Mary.

They’re just standing there looking at the door, listening to the food delivery man’s motorcycle first rev up, and then speed off, as it dawns on them. She didn’t just go out to pay him. She used him to flee from the mess she created. Again!

So much for Abby’s theory that Mary is the favorite. Nope. The only favorite their mom has is herself.

It’s such a complicated, gut-twisting end to the story. Or I guess it’s not all that complicated. Decider succinctly summed it up best by describing it as a “bad mom becomes an even worse mom.”

But I wanted so much for Neve, who seemed like she’d become a loving and caring mom, to find a way to save all of her kids, the old ones from harming anyone else, and the new ones from being any more traumatized.

Instead, much like Marvin, Abigail, Sebastian, and Mary’s mom has done to them, the ending of this movie is going to haunt me for the rest of my life.

Next. Wolf Garden is an interesting slow burn. dark

What was your reaction to the ending of The Strays? Let us know in the comments!