Australian independent crime thriller “The Stranger” written and directed by Thomas M. Wright, has become a surprise hit for Netflix.

With Joel Edgerton producing and starring, the film was acquired by the streamer at Cannes. Now playing online, it has reached #4 globally on Netflix and places in the top 10 in 54 countries.

The film is based on Kate Kyriacou’s book “The Sting: The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe’s Killer” and is a fictionalized account of the real-life hunt for the killer of a 13-year-oldboy who was abducted on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in 2003 and later murdered. Brett Peter Cowan, who was finally caught in 2011, was found guilty of the murder following a trial in 2014.

Produced by See-Saw Films, Anonymous Content and Blue Tongue Films, the film takes a very different tack from the real events. It changes names, adds characters and refers only briefly to the actual crime, with no scenes of the crime depicted.

Instead, it focuses on the intense cat and mouse game between undercover detective Mark Frame played (Edgerton) who befriends the suspected murderer, Henry Teague (Sean Harris) winning his trust leading to his eventual confession to the crime. Their uneasy friendship is at the core of the plot. 

“No one is more surprised than us at the success,” Edgerton told Variety. Edgerton, who optioned the book and produced the South Australia-shot film. “We didn’t do press or a red carpet, but this niche film is finding a worldwide audience.” 

It’s limited theatrical release in Australia before debuting on Netflix, stirred media attention when the parents of Morcombe protested in what they felt was an exploitation of their son’s story. “We decided to respectfully retreat from the controversy,” said Edgerton. “We wanted to honor the police operatives and focus on the investigation. It’s essentially a film about two men who are constantly lying to each other. It’s an exercise in elongated tension.”

“The Stranger” was recently nominated for 11 AACTA Awards including best film as well as direction and screenplay for Wright and acting nominations for Edgerton and Harris. Edgerton promises to campaign for the film during awards season. “I may be trying to put on the sandwich board and stand on a street corner, saying there is this little film over here that’s thrilling and entertaining but it would be great to see this recognized. It’s a movie that has found its audience by word of mouth,” he said.

Netflix is enjoying success with its recent Australian content. Other hits include reboot of beloved series “Heartbreak High” Chris Hemsworth’s “Spiderhead” and action thriller “Interceptor” (#1 globally) this year.