A Rideshare Driver and Her Tiny Dog Battle a Stalker in ‘The Stranger’


Veena Sud’s goal in making The Stranger might’ve been to tell a story about toxic masculinity, but this horror movie also doubles as a cautionary tale about the perils of a tech-driven gig economy. Played by the modern scream queen Maika Monroe, our poor protagonist, Clare, is a rideshare driver and L.A. transplant who is just trying to earn enough money to stay afloat while she reaches for her dreams of becoming a writer. Then, she picks up a pale little freak named Carl E.—played by the ever-creepy Dane DeHaan—and gets way more than she bargained for.

The Stranger first premiered in 2020 as a Quibi series. After the “quick-bite” platform imploded, Sud—best known as the creator of AMC’s The Killing adaptation—re-cut her original work into a feature film, which hits Hulu on Monday for its second act. Throughout the film, Carl E. uses his hacker skills to stalk Clare through the cloud, tracking her through devices and predicting her next moves using an algorithm he’s developed through previous “experiments” he’s run with other female victims. Things get even more serious when Carl E. starts targeting not only Clare and her human allies, but also her precious dog, Pebbles. Is nothing sacred to this troubled young man?!

In some moments, The Stranger feels like a Hitchcockian thriller for an increasingly algorithm-atized America. Its beautifully framed visuals and ominous, shadowy lighting are enough to make you forget that this movie was once a vertically oriented TV series meant to be consumed in 9-minute intervals while waiting in line for your Starbucks order or sitting on the toilet. In other scenes, however, the film veers into goofier territory, suddenly reminding us that this project was once developed to live beside Quibis like, say, “The Golden Arm. (Remember that time The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan starred in a horror short about a woman with a golden arm? Man, 2020 was a weird time!)

How did it play as a Quibi series? RogerEbert.com hated the format, saying, “It’s remarkably difficult to build tension and create suspense in ‘bite-sized’ segments,” while Film School Rejects praised, “The first three Quibis—roughly the opening 24 minutes—deliver thrills, suspense, and something more akin to The Hitcher (1986) than even that film’s remake managed.”

A photo including a still from the film The Stranger

Maika Monroe


DeHaan’s performance is as menacing as ever. With each misogynistic comment and every brooding stare, he finds new ways to underscore his character’s basement-born, incel-adjacent isolation. Then again, it’s hard not to chuckle at some of the Reddit-coded drivel that spills out of Carl E.’s mouth.

Case in point: When Carl E. tells Clare a horror story in the car and she begins crying, he growls, “You are sitting next to a sociopath who has by definition zero human empathy, so how does caterwauling fit into your survival plan here?” (Caterwauling?) He continues: “If it’s male chivalry those puppy-dog eyes are meant to appeal to, newsflash, it’s 2020, Nancy Pelosi. Time to put your big-girl pants on. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t expect the men to open the door for you cunts and then whine that we don’t treat you like equals.” With each passing word from this MRA forum rant, you can practically hear the computer keys clacking.

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Carl E. is obviously a villain with a capital “V,” but Sud complicates her story by planting seeds of doubt about Clare as well. Throughout the film, there are hints that she might have a history of making things up. Or was she telling the truth and simply not believed at the time? Regardless, she only recently moved to Los Angeles, so apart from her beloved pooch, it seems like Clare has basically no one in the city to help her. The one person who does believe her story is a 7-Eleven cashier named JJ (Avan Jogia) who heroically decides to stay by her side through a truly horrific night, even despite getting chased down by both a psychopath and, at one point, a pack of subway-dwelling coyotes.

As serious as its sources of inspiration may be—the rise of disaffected, woman-hating young men; technologies that encroach on our privacy while predicting our every move; crumbling, forgotten public transit infrastructures…—The Stranger is best approached as a light-hearted horror romp designed, above all, to entertain. Carl E.’s technologically based stalking techniques can feel almost supernatural, rather than grounded in reality, and the film’s finale can only be described as unforgettably bonkers in the best way possible. That said, it’ll definitely make Uber drivers think twice before letting Dane DeHaan (or anyone with weird vibes) into their cars.

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