Lenny Abrahamson (director)
1h 51min (length)
20 September 2018 (released)
20 September 2018
Before Lenny Abrahamson scored a Best Director Oscar nomination for his work on 2015's Room, he made the bizarre 2014 film Frank with Domhnall Gleeson, and the duo has now reunited for a completely different kind of project.
The Little Stranger is set in Warwickshire in 1947 and follows Dr. Faraday (Gleeson) as he receives a call to attend Hundreds Hall, a country mansion he was fascinated by when he visited as a child.
Roderick (Will Poulter), who has a problem leg and is covered in burns, is struggling to run the estate and the lavish home has now fallen into disrepair, with the only occupants being sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson), their mother (Charlotte Rampling), and their maid Betty (Liv Hill).
During the course of his treatment, Roderick's mental health takes a turn, and he becomes convinced that something bad is going to happen and the house wants everybody out. Faraday gradually becomes more involved with the family, particularly Caroline, as more and more unexplained events, possibly supernatural, begin to occur throughout the house.
The problem with The Little Stranger is that it sounds like a horror or a thriller, but those moments are so few and far between that fans of those genres would come away disappointed. It would be a stretch and extremely misleading to classify it as a horror when it is more of a gothic drama with minimal spooky moments, which are usually over pretty quickly before the film reverts back to being a standard period piece.
Considering its run time is 1 hour and 51 minutes, not as much happens as you would hope, given the premise. It focuses more on Faraday and his friendship and potential romance with Caroline. It is interesting enough to watch, despite its slow pace, but you are also waiting for the seemingly supernatural elements to step up a notch and get really scary or for there to be a shocking twist, which never comes.
The film is an adaptation of Sarah Waters' novel, and it is extremely loyal to it, possibly to its detriment. It sticks with Faraday being the narrator, but he is unreliable, so you don't know if he is as innocent as he makes himself seem.
The ending is also vague, which means you never get to the bottom of what happened at the hall. The last few shots give a subtle hint about the culprit, but it's not explicitly said, so viewers will likely leave the cinema scratching their heads and wondering what it all means.
Poulter gives his best-ever performance under extensive make-up as Roderick, adopting a convincing limp and old-fashioned RP accent, while Hill, who was a likeable and emotional maid, is another standout. Gleeson, Wilson and Rampling all give solid performances, but they are much more understated and as subtle as the rest of the piece.
The Little Stranger was too slow and not enough happened to keep up the tension. It needed to work harder to build up the sense of foreboding and the scares were too brief. It had the ingredients to become much more, but doesn't quite deliver on an exciting premise.