20th CENTURY FOX (2018)
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling
2018’s gothic offerings mainly consist of Winchester, so this has a very low bar to exceed.
The Little Stranger, Lenny Abrahamson’s follow-up to Room and adapted from Sarah Waters novel of the same name, is spun as a gothic mystery drama with a smidgen of horror (elements) thrown in for good measure. Though I haven’t read that novel, it was well-received giving Abrahamson something solid to work from. Boasting a very talented cast also, my initial optimism was relatively high for this.
Set in the more civilised time of 1948, England is in a recovering post-war state. The Little Stranger follows Dr. Faraday (Gleeson) who visits an old estate, Hundreds Hall, which his mother used to work at, only to discover it may hold a dark secret. Now owned by RAF veteran Roderick Ayres (Poulter) and housing his sister Caroline (Wilson), the house is in disrepair but a strange connection between Faraday and Caroline keeps him coming back despite strange, erratic happenings becoming more frequent.
Right off the top, that synopsis will have The Little Stranger sounding like a real intrigue, a mystery to get your teeth stuck into. The reality is it’s neither. Pondering, slow (without the intrigue) and frankly uninteresting, the movie fails to ignite and becomes rather tedious. As a fan of slow-burning mystery movies, I was expecting to really come away from this having greatly enjoyed what I saw, but, alas, I was merely disappointed. The cast give all that they can, Ruth Wilson especially is very good and Domhnall Gleeson is stoically stiff as the prickly doctor, but there’s a real sense of MOR to the overall performances. The majority of the movie moves along at a snail’s pace with large stretches of nothingness to test your patience – when things do happen, they are swiftly over and either not resolved or eventually picked up later as a polite nod to the fact that it happened at all. I had certainly not expected a horror movie per se but the mystery element was lacking and the drama was simply boring.
Visually, The Little Stranger IS appealing. It’s a very British looking drama, everything looks a bit too stuffy but there’s a certain charm to it. The house and grounds look grand and it would be near-wrong to say that the period isn’t captured well. The ‘haunted house’ aspect of this old-style mystery is portrayed well, however, the narrative that accompanies it is weak and even the denouement is flat given the immediate events proceeding it.
The cold, emotionless story fails to catch fire even when the third act attempts to create dread and atmosphere. Despite boasting a high-quality cast, Abrahamson can’t rekindle the same magic he conjured with Room. Despite so much leaning in its favour, The Little Stranger ends up being bland, lifeless and, sadly, disappointing.
September 24th 2018