The Little Stranger
Combining elements of period drama, suspense, psychological thriller and gothic horror, Lenny Abrahamson’s The Little Stranger is difficult to watch – and even more difficult to classify. The film contains some brilliant moments of rising tension and gut-wrenching drama, but sadly also a needlessly slow pace and a confused tone resulting from the mix of genres, making it a highbrow mixed bag.
Based on Sarah Waters’s novel of the same name, the feature tells the story of Dr Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) – a country doctor with working-class roots – who is summoned by the Ayres family to Hundreds Hall to look after their maid, Betty (Liv Hill). The physician’s mother had worked there as a maid before he was born, but now the family fortune is all but gone, forcing the once-rich aristocrats to find new ways of financing their exotic lifestyle. Faraday quickly becomes a family friend and even begins a romantic relationship with Caroline Ayres (Ruth Wilson) – but things quickly go astray, as it appears the house is haunted by the family’s past.
Perhaps inspired by The Turn of the Screw, the entire movie is shown and told from Faraday’s perspective as the events unfold. We watch him deal with Roderick Ayres (Will Poulter), who suffers from mental and physical scarring after WWII; console Mrs Ayres (Charlotte Rampling), who is in grief over the loss of her second daughter at a young age; and befriend the overworked housemaid. Throughout the film, his ghostly manner leaves us questioning whether we can trust him – or anyone else, for that matter – and whether the haunts are supernatural or not.
The constant build-up is skilfully done, partially because of the excellent cast. In particular, Gleeson and Wilson capture the complexities of their characters succinctly, adding an extra flair of eeriness to the already superb directing and use of music and sound. That being said, while the side plots and the build-up are executed with great prowess, the main storyline unfolds at a snail’s pace. As wonderful to watch as the B-stories are, it makes the picture lose focus – and tension.
The Little Strangers tries to be too much at once. Focusing more on the uncanny gothic would have worked wonders to perfect a very passionate movie, rather than allowing it to be so strongly side-tracked. However, the feature is still worth a watch for an audience with a lot of patience – the outstanding elements are incredibly engaging.
The Little Stranger is released nationwide on 21st September 2018.
Watch the trailer for The Little Stranger here: