REVIEW: THE STRANGER (2020)

Hannah John-Kamen in The Stranger (2020)

Starring

Richard Armitage (Hannibal)
Siobhan Finneran (Boy A)
Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and The Wasp)
Jennifer Saunders (Minions)
Shaun Dooley (The White Queen)
Paul Kaye (Anna and The Apocalypse)
Dervla Kirwan (White Dragon)
Kadiff Kirwan (Mary Queen of Scotts)
Anthony Head (Buffy: TVS)
Stephen Rea (V For Vendetta)
Kai Alexander (Catastrophe)
Jacob Dudman (The List)
Brandon Fellows (Raised By Wolves)
Lily Loveless (Sket)
Tamica Greenaway

Hannah John-Kamen in Episode #1.1 (2020)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Aurora Burghart (October Faction)
Manoj Anand (Pennyworth)
Joey Ansah (THe Bourne Ultimatum)
India Brown (Hetty Feather)
Callie Cooke (Britannia)
Chike Chan (Everest)
Jemma Powell (Alice In Wonderland)
Ella-Rae Smith (Into The Badlands)
Chinenye Ezeudu (Sex Education)
Jade Harrison (Hollyoaks)
Misha Handley (THe Women In Black)

rewrewrwerwerewrSecrets! Everybody’s got ‘em. Sordid little lies tucked away behind incognito tabs and fake online usernames. Maybe you diddled your expenses or your mortgage application or your son’s clarinet teacher. Let’s say you robbed Peter to pay Paul, then knocked Peter over the back of the head with a golf club and fed his remains to Paul’s pig. Whatever foul canker you’ve shoved so far up inside your folds nobody could ever find it, you’d better hope that you don’t get a visit from the Stranger. The Stranger is Netflix’s new UK thriller, adapted by Danny Brocklehurst (Shameless, Exile) from the 2015 novel of the same name by crime mystery superstar Harlan Coben (The Five, Safe). It’s about a mysterious woman who goes around spilling people’s darkest secrets. She turns up, whispers a devastating truth about a loved one in your ear and then whoosh, she’s gone.TheStranger-04.04.19-1.14-3-d84d4b7Where, who, how and why are all questions the series dutifully ticks off over eight highly bingeable instalments. Be warned: this is precision-engineered viewing designed to keep you on the sofa lazily slurping up twist after twist. Every episode bar the last ends in three minutes of frenzied discovery that leave our characters tossed in a variety of perils. Watching it in one hypnotised go is more or less a contractual obligation. The Stranger’s binge-ability works greatly in its favour, because it keeps you too busy to reflect in any depth on what you’re seeing. The ‘hang on, what an enormous contrivance’ thoughts won’t arrive until you’ve rushed through the lot, and by that point, you won’t be thinking about it much at all. It’ll just leave you fed and full, like a tasty M&S carbonara.hqdefaultThe highlights are in the cast. Hannibal’s Richard Armitage is a strong lead as lawyer and family man Adam Price, while Happy Valley’s Siobhan Finneran is so capable and likeable as detective DS Johanna Griffin that if you were ever murdered, you’d want her as lead investigator in your case. The pair of them easily cushion any jolts over bumpy dialogue. The Stranger herself (gender-swapped from the book at Coben’s behest) is played by Black Mirror’s Hannah John Kamen. She wreaks havoc around the unspecified Northern town (it’s Stockport), unearthing shameful acts and confronting people with realities they don’t want to face. Some lies even come out without her involvement, as if her mere presence in the local area is a kind of laxative for difficult-to-pass truths.UntitledThose three are joined by Stephen Rea (Counterpart, The Crying Game) as a curmudgeonly former police officer whose legal battle Adam is fighting, Dervla Kirwan (Strangers, Ballykissangel) as Adam’s wife Corinne, Anthony Head (The Split, Merlin) as a local kingpin property developer, neighbour and colleague Shaun Dooley (Broadchurch, Gentleman Jack), Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) as a local café owner, and Paul Kaye (Vera, After Life). There are a dozen other characters, almost all with their own storylines and revelations on top of that lot. Underpopulated this series isn’t. Quite the opposite – it’s stuffed with character and incident. Like colourful pins on a whiteboard encircled by multiple threads, almost everybody we meet comes with a mystery to solve. Adam and Corinne’s eldest son Thomas (Jacob Dudman) and his schoolfriends are part of a parallel investigation that weaves in and out of the main story. The teen plot isn’t acted with many shades of light and dark, but it keeps things moving.Hannah-John-Kamen-nella-miniserie-The-Stranger-Credits-Netflix

It all keeps moving. The Stranger is thoroughly plotted, with carefully allotted motivations and mini-mysteries for all, even if none manage to reveal any particular human truths. A does X to B because they’re jealous of C, which makes C do X to get back at A. It’s a thriller with all the planning Post-Its in all the right places. Wherever there’s a question, there will be an answer – if you haven’t already guessed some of the more generic twists. Seasoned thriller viewers will predict many, but there’s such a high volume that another surprise will be along any minute. Its humour is another highlight. A stab of Brocklehurst’s former writing gig on Shameless comes through in some of the more comedic and unexpected elements, adding blessed brightness to a genre often mired in noir. Unnatural thriller elements like car chases and lengthy foot pursuits are softened by naturalistic humour, helped along by Kadiff Kirwan’s DC Wesley Ross (or ‘the infant’ as Johanna calls him) sight-for-sore-eyes Jennifer Saunders, and Shaun Dooley’s matey neighbour Tripp.ptWcWGKwIt’s an enjoyable and entertaining series that, while it doesn’t leave a lasting impression, also doesn’t allow any time for boredom. The transition from the US-set book – a world of lacrosse clubs, guns, domestic flights and ad execs proselytising on the American dream – is successfully done and keeps the whole thing’s feet on the ground, give or take a little tedious stoner philosophising inherited from the novel about whether secrets are cancer or whether they could even be like, maybe, good? All in all, there’s plenty to recommend it, and plenty of lesser ways to spend six and a bit hours in front of Netflix. Have at it.

REVIEW: OCTOBER FACTION – SEASON 1

J.C. MacKenzie, Tamara Taylor, Gabriel Darku, and Aurora Burghart in October Faction (2019)

Starring

Tamara Taylor (Bones)
J. C. MacKenzie (Dark Angel)
Aurora Burghart (The Stranger)
Gabriel Darku (Impulse)
Wendy Crewson (The Covenant)
Megan Follows (Reign)
Stephen McHattie (300)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Maxim Roy (Shadowhunters)
Nicola Correia-Damude (Coroner)
Sara Waisglass (Holly Hobbie)
Anwen O’Driscoll (Burden of Truth)
Sima Fisher (Lost Girl)
Praneet Akilla (Still/Born)
Dayo Ade (Heartland)
Joris Jarsky (Saw V)
Lyla Porter-Follows (Reign)
Kristen Kurnik (XXX 3)
Michelle Nolden (Red)
Emilia McCarthy (Zapped)
Amanda Zhou (Rabid)
Dale Whibley (The Christmas Cure)
Chris Violette (Power Rangers SPD)
Robin Dunne (Sanctuary)
Kate Ross (Reign)
Taveeta Szymanowicz (Dare Me)
Nicola Correia-Damude (Nurses)
Ted Whittall (Suicide Squad)

october-faction-review-netflixArriving today, with little fanfare and only a day ahead of the much-anticipated third season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, October Faction Season 1 looks to scratch the itch for family-centric supernatural adaptations left behind by the Big N’s own The Umbrella Academy. Based on the same-named comic series created by writer Steve Niles and artist Damien Worm, which ran for 18 issues as IDW Publishing and enjoyed two follow-up miniseries’ in October Faction: Deadly Season and October Faction: Supernatural Dreams, this latest adaptation boasts enough geek-savvy casting and essential genre elements to entice a sizeable crowd, even if it might be subsequently overshadowed by Netflix’s algorithm and the release of one of its heavy-hitters.1579779112There’s always the chance of enduring cult popularity here, since those trademark components — dysfunctional family, small-town secrets, supernaturalism, established fanbase, and so on — are plentiful and reliable. Double-life-living Fred (J.C. MacKenzie) and Deloris (Tamara Taylor) are monster hunters and parents to twins Viv (Aurora Burghart) and Geoff (Gabriel Darku), and the parallels between horrors of both the supernatural and high-school varieties are not subtle. Their relocation to a mysterious town in upstate New York following the death of Fred’s father is an excuse for this all to come together across ten episodes.OCTOBERFACTION_107_DAY5_SS_072.DNGExpect the usual beats: An aging man grappling with an old life and its old enemies, and burgeoning powers being a metaphor for growing up and into adulthood. Expect, also, to feel that the show goes on for slightly too long; despite the abundance of the source material, ten episodes is heavy-going for this kind of thing and can lead to the reiteration of dynamics and the delaying of plot points that always amounts to frustration in a binge-watch.october-factionOne has to wonder about Netflix’s strategy here — search for October Faction Season 1 now, and you’ll find it heavily-marketed, but tomorrow, in the wake of a quite similar show with a much more enthusiastic following, that almost certainly won’t be the case. In the meantime, though, if you need to feel better about your own family keeping secrets, there are worse ways.