Dr Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) has always been fascinated by Hundreds Hall, even as a child when his mother worked there as a housemaid. During the summer of 1947, he is called to tend to a patient at the now declining manor, which gives him an opportunity to get to know the family there. The Hall is home to Mrs Ayres (Charlotte Rampling) and her children Caroline (Ruth Wilson) and Roddy (Will Poulter), the latter of whom is suffering from PTSD. As Faraday spends more time with the Ayres, he gets drawn into their way of living, and starts to witness strange events that haunt the family home.
Lenny Abrahamson has been fairly quiet since earning his Oscar nomination for ‘Room’ with ‘The Little Stranger’ being his first feature in the last three years. Even when it was announced that his next project would be an adaptation of Sarah Waters’ gothic novel, it seemed a strange step in the Irish director’s career. Aside from them both being based on a novel, his last two films share nothing in common, and the film also departs from his earlier work (almost all Ireland-set films) in that it marks his first venture into a period setting. From the outset, it would seem to also be first venture into horror, you could even say into genre, and yet he decidedly betrays conventionality.
While ‘The Little Stranger’ novel may be described as a ghost story, such a label doesn’t really seem fit its film equivalent. The movie marks a fresh take on the haunted house sub-genre which has both style and substance as it explores a theme that Abrahamson has certainly shown an interest in through works like ‘Adam & Paul’ and ‘What Richard Did’ - class.
The film looks magnificent and is beautifully photographed by Ole Bratt Birkeland, but even more importantly, what the film has going for it is an incredible cast. Domhnall Gleeson can do no wrong, having been a significant addition to the new ‘Star Wars’ movies and playing a key role in the success of ‘Peter Rabbit’ this year. He takes to the role like a duck to water and is outperformed by only one other – the breathtakingly talented Ruth Wilson. Charlotte Rampling and Will Poulter shine too but it is left to Wilson and Gleeson to carry the movie for its majority.
‘The Little Stranger’ takes twists and turns with some shocking moments. Audiences will be riveted in their total lack of knowledge of where the story could go. Fascinating and terrifying, the film’s only major flaw is its ending which, akin to Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’, happens rather too suddenly and doesn’t give viewers quite the pay-off they desired. Then again, that is likely Abrahamson’s exact intention. In any case, it’s a film you’ll want to start talking about and speculate over immediately after viewing.