Esteemed director Lenny Abrahamson, the architect behind noteworthy films such as Garage, Frank, and Room, directed this gothic drama film from a script by Lucinda Coxon, based on the novel of the same name by Sarah Waters. Impeccably acted, the film boasts Ruth Wilson, Domhnall Gleeson, and Charlotte Rampling in its cast, but it’s governed with an unstable hand, developing inconsistently in pace and intensity.
Carrying something bizarre without never really a scare, the story flashes back to a manor during a 1919 Empire Day party, where country doctor Faraday (Gleeson) arrives with his mother, a former maid. Cut to today; Faraday recalls vivid, bitter images of that party as he returns to the manor. Now as a visiting doctor to treat the young maid Betty (Liv Hill), who is clearly influenced by disturbing episodes observed on the premises that nobody can explain.
“…the young maid…is clearly influenced by disturbing episodes observed on the premises that nobody can explain.”
Faraday solves Betty’s problem, having the aristocratic Caroline Ayres (Wilson) calling him a wizard. He also meets her brother Roderick (Will Poulter), the disfigured owner of the manor and a traumatized Royal Air Force veteran, as well as their mother, Mrs. Ayres (Rampling), who admits with airy tones that the house works on people.
Becoming a frequent presence in the house, Faraday, little by little, gets the fondness of the family members. On one hand, he offers to treat the psychologically fragile Roderick through an innovative process and on the other hand, he tries to conquer Caroline’s heart, a laborious task. Soon, he detects supernatural activity in the house, a virulent inhuman presence that Mrs. Ayres associates with the spirit of her deceased younger daughter, Suki.
“…he detects supernatural activity in the house, a virulent inhuman presence…”
I have to admit it was a bit shocking when Faraday’s intentions are disclosed. Yet, the reflexes of evil and struggle in the story were never sufficiently impactful to tantalize or even satisfy. The romance and its wry twists provided us with the best moments of the film, whereas the ghost story remained sapless.
More inanimate than haunting, The Little Stranger is Abrahamson’s least interesting feature. Here, the ambiguity doesn’t work as a positive factor, and not everyone will have the patience for a family tragedy that on several occasions felt apathetic and calculated. It should go down smoothly with fans of the genre, though.
The Little Stranger (2018) Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Written by Lucinda Coxon. Starring Ruth Wilson, Domhnall Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill.
5 out of 10 stars