Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling
Run Time: 111 mins
Those looking for a fully-fledged horror film should perhaps look elsewhere, but if you’re after an atmospheric Gothic drama with some great performances and an enticing narrative, The Little Stranger delivers. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, who made the exemplary Room, this adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel is a rather strange choice. Domhnall Gleeson plays Doctor Faraday, who attends Hundreds Hall, an 18th century estate that his mother used to work at. The Hall has fascinated him all of his life, from the decor to the luxuriousness of it, somewhat a forbidden fantasy from his more humble origins. Hundreds Hall is now slowly in decline and home to a scarred Royal Air Force veteran, Rodrick Ayres (Will Poulter) and his elderly mother (Charlotte Rampling) and sister, Caroline (Ruth Wilson) who live there too. As the film unravels, the house is not what it seems and mysterious happenings begin to unfold, whilst at the same time Faraday tries to befriend Caroline.
Abrahamson shows skill in creating tension and conjuring a dreary, melancholic atmosphere and there is a feeling throughout the film that something bad is going to happen. This is bolstered by Stephen Rennicks unsettling score and Ole Bratt Birkeland’s dark cinemaography. The performances really help here too, with all of the talented cast doing a good job as although there is strong character development, due to the nature of the narrative, the characters are rather cold and emotionless. Will Poulter is by far and away the standout, further cementing his talent after impressing in many of his roles recently, most notably The Revenant and Detroit. He wears the disfigurement of his character perfectly and his mannerisms are chilling.
But the film never really amounts to all that much and despite the sustained patience throughout the film, it ends rather minimalistically. That’s not to say it’s particularly unsatisfying, but I was expecting the narrative to amount to a little more than it does. After having a chance to think about the film, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not so much about the ending, it is more about Faraday’s journey and his ambition to break through the social classes.
Overall, The Little Stranger is a solid Gothic drama, but it is certainly not a horror film as the marketing has suggested and if you can appreciate Abrahamson’s quiet approach and rich characterisations, it’s a good watch. But this is certainly going to be a divisive film that will probably test the patience of many of its viewers.