What makes Netflix's Stay Close so hauntingly intimate?

A deep dive into why Stay Close resonated so well with viewers.

Immy Brown
21st February 2022
Credit: IMDb
After being added to Netflix’s most watched list a mere 24 hours after its release, it is no surprise that Harlan Coben’s Stay Close (2021) has soared to success. What on first look seems like just another middle - class suburban crime series, in reality possesses a haunting intensity which lingers in the minds of viewers long after the final credits have been played. 

Small spoilers below!

The story begins as we are introduced to Megan (Cush Jumbo), a seemingly ordinary, mother of three about to marry her long-term partner. However, when it is revealed a man from her past who she understands to be dead has returned after almost two decades, she repeatedly places her new life and this new identity in danger, in order to find the truth. 

Credit: IMDb, Cush Jumbo stars as Megan in Stay Close

As Megan becomes more involved in uncovering her past, the story of her old life becomes deeply intertwined with a police investigation. A link is formed with the disappearance of men each year at an event hosted at Viper’s nightclub; Megan’s previous workplace. Through this connection, her daughter attempts to understand exactly what her mother’s involvement is, but, as a direct result of Megan’s lies, her daughter becomes a target and is kidnapped. Through a seemingly selfish desire to reconnect to her colourful past, Megan carelessly leaves her new family exposed and vulnerable, challenging our first impression of Megan’s loyalty to her family.

What is so specifically haunting about Stay Close, is that as viewers we finish the series feeling more sympathy for a serial killer, than we do for Megan. As one repeatedly and successfully protects, the other fails to, and instead places those close to them in even more danger. As the identity of the killer of these men is revealed, I found myself feeling a pitying warmth towards the perpetrator as she explains her history of domestic abuse. Rather than acting out of malicious intent, she describes her desire to protect young women at the club from abusive men set to manipulate. This creates a sense that O’ Hara’s direction specifically wants us to justify these deaths as the killer is not presented as a murderer, but rather a victim in her own right whose past trauma demands her to use this opportunity to heal. To further emotively connect viewers to her character, we learn she is terminally ill and therefore this process of healing in order to achieve peace has a fading time frame. We are therefore encouraged to empathise with the killer as she describes her role as an “Angel of Revenge”, portraying murder as a form of justice.

What is so specifically haunting about Stay Close, is that as viewers we finish the series feeling more sympathy for a serial killer, than we do for Megan.

This uncomfortable revelation creates a sense of haunting intimacy between us and the killer, whilst also introducing an intricate moral debate as we are forced to answer the ethical question that remains present even after we turn off Netflix. Is this woman really an "Angel of Revenge", justifiably protecting women who are unable to defend themselves? Or is this concept merely deemed acceptable to us through its fictional existence?

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