Stranger Things ushered in a new wave of material on Netflix. Riskier, odd, but well-written and produced material that would never get a chance on broadcast television because it could never find an audience in that medium. The OA is right alongside that effort, equally interesting, though aimed at a very different section of the viewing public.
Creators Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling are known for their highly unique approach to story and film. Their most recent collaboration, I Origins, delved into the concept of identity and a few other unexpected ideas. They also like to play with how a story is told, literally, and how it is presented. In this case, OA episodes are even of varying lengths based on the need of the that particular section.
Everything matters in Batmanglij and Marling’s tales. They pace the tales to give the audience time to absorb and, maybe, understand or even get ahead of the plot, when that is to their aims. Their worlds and tales carefully unfold, exposing first just the odd edges and then the truly strange aspects of their ideas. The OA is no exception. By doing so, they bring you along and drop you in utterly unexpected country, but with enough knowledge to navigate it.
Batmanglij directed the entire series and pulled together a great ensemble of unlikely characters. Alice Krige (Solomon Kane) and Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead) as Marling’s parents, and Jason Isaacs (Awake) each deliver nuanced performances in key roles. The rest of the main cast has a few notables: Emory Cohen (Brooklyn), Phyllis Smith (Inside Out), and Patrick Gibson (What Richard Did), as well as newcomers Brandon Perea and Ian Alexander make up a solid core for Marling’s tale. Marling herself, in the title character, controls the story with a confidence and charisma that maintains your interest even through the most steadily paced moments.
Identifying the truth or reality in this story is part of the fun. There are a lot of clues, but each has multiple interpretations. But truth is less the point than the fun of considering the possibilities. It all comes to an ending that is at once mundane and wondrous… and likely divisive, but that is also nothing new for this creative duo.