The Stratum Image

The Stratum

By Andrew Stover | February 21, 2023

Directed by Crash Buist, who co-wrote the script with Lauren Senechal, The Stratum basks in the standard codes you’ve come to expect in the sci-fi genre. It deals with space travel, high-tech gear, oppressive forces, forward-thinking minds, and a synth-heavy score. Working with a skittish group of characters and a script that has striking parallels to our current reality, Buist pieces together an enjoyable and timely adventure.

The year is 2054, and a deadly virus has devastated the planet. Those infected live out the rest of their days coughing up blood. William Wright (Ramin Karimloo), the CEO of Wright Corp, controls the world from space leading the one and only energy conglomerate. He presents as a well-spoken leader but as bad as they come. His daughter, Ayla (Lauren Senechal), also lives in space but separately from everyone else because of a rare allergy. Living in isolation, seemingly unaware of her father’s turpitude, all she has for company is an artificial intelligence system.

The Stratum begins amid a Wright Corp employee being interrogated. Edgar (Jonathan Medina) and the other armed assailants reveal themselves as members of The People’s Army, a group dedicated to destroying Wright Corp by any means necessary. James (Crash Buist), a skilled freelance hacker, is contacted by Edgar for a job. He agrees to do it because of the money. But, James finds himself part of a more extensive operation in which he must get close to Ayla.

Adopting the roles of director, co-writer, and lead actor doesn’t overwhelm Buist. In fact, he juggles the sci-fi components, particularly the world-building, impressively. Being the low-budget affair that it is, Buist’s use of props and special effects is thoroughly considered. There are holograms, wrist gadgets, AI-powered vending machines, and billboards that read: “No infected beyond this point.” The social divide of this dystopian society is made abundantly clear through visuals alone, although the forthright dialogue will fill you in on all the details, sometimes to a fault.


“…James finds himself part of a more extensive operation in which he must get close to Ayla.”

James is presented as somebody who is trying to convince themselves that they are, for the most part, in control of or optimistic about the success rate of their mission. However, he has a tragic past that is divulged organically. This backstory is a jumping-off point for viewers to monitor the character’s morality as he develops a deeper connection to Ayla and is sent on potentially dangerous side missions.

The cast of The Stratum is quite good. Buist brings a wobbly confidence and flippant attitude to James. Yet, due to the actor’s good performance, James is still personable. Senechal brings vim to Ayla’s motivation to liberate humankind from her father’s rapacious grasp. Karimloo plays her foul father with the right amount of glossy charm and shrouded menace.

The constant intermingling of real-life and virtual reality is a clever addition. This decision allows Buist to transition between James and Ayla easily and to readily move between locations (an auditorium, an art gallery, a spaceship), all without disrupting the urgent pacing. James interacts with Ayla in virtual reality, but, unfortunately, the romance that unfurls between them is rather undercooked. This hampers an already rushed finale.

For anyone willing to get on the right wavelength, The Stratum is a brisk and immersive ride. Delivering on sci-fi elements while wrestling with themes of social disparity and corporate avarice, Buist grounds this galactic journey. He does so by focusing on love, the fight for harmony, and the necessity of taking responsibility for our actions and then learning from them to forge a brighter, more wholesome future.

The Stratum (2023)

Directed: Crash Buist

Written: Crash Buist, Lauren Senechal

Starring: Crash Buist, Lauren Senechal, Ramin Karimloo, Wayne T. Carr, Jonathan Medina, June Carryl, Santiago Segura, etc.

Movie score: 6.5/10

The Stratum Image

"…a brisk and immersive ride."

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