I must be in a masochistic mood when I decide to watch the opening segments of Quibi's latest chopped-up movie The Stranger. I don't have high hopes. The bar is already set pretty low. Clare (Maika Monroe), a rideshare driver in Los Angeles, picks up a passenger named Carl E. (Dean Dehaan). He turns out to be a sociopath, possibly a serial killer, who decides to stalk her across the city after she escapes him. Okay, this is a workable premise. It's elegantly simple and could be done fairly well or incredibly badly. To its credit, The Stranger hits the ground running. It gets to the point almost immediately in the first segment when Carl E. starts to threaten Clare before it's even over. Everything from that point just escalates. It doesn't waste time on backstory or exposition like The Most Dangerous Game or Survive do.
The Stranger Wants to be Relevant
The first segment suggests this is The Hitcher for the #MeToo era. People think Clare is lying about the existence of Carl E. Her driver's account gets suspended when Carl E. files a complaint against her before she can report him. It feels like gaslighting when she finds herself alone and on the run. Carl E. feels like a supernatural presence. Somehow, he knows her address, can erase his texts to her phone seemingly at will, and can also cover vast distances across LA to get to where she is in seconds. Dean Dehaan gives good sociopath. At this point, he's pretty much go-to casting for malicious sociopaths. Carl E. voices the type of misogynistic vitriol that the alt-right throws at women they harass. It feels interestingly topical, like a companion movie to Blumhouse's The Invisible Man.
Then by the fourth segment, it starts to go off the rails. It lost me when Clare does something so mind-blowingly stupid that no one in real life would ever think of doing, just so that Plot could happen. And the script introduces the notion that Clare has a history of making up threats. Oh no. Her mother reveals Clare has a history of making things up. Is she a fantasist? Is she schizophrenic? Was Carl E. a figment of her imagination all along? How did he somehow travel over 10 blocks on foot to stab someone to death and frame her for it? Is this heading for a twist that Clare is actually nuts and it's all in her head? That would be the worst, most hoary twist of all.
Reviewing An Incomplete Movie Is Not Ideal
This is a weird way to review a "movie" because it isn't structured as one. It's been chopped up into serialized segments so I haven't seen the whole thing. Now I wonder how bad the script is going to get, how contrived the "twists" are going to get because screenwriters love trying to be clever when they don't need to be. Or it could just land somewhere in the middle. I might actually be morbidly curious enough to want to find out. So far, The Stranger isn't good, but it's not the worst movie/series on Quibi. That honor, my friends, still belongs to Survive.