THE LITTLE STRANGER is a gothic supernatural horror drama directed by Lenny Abrahamson (best known for the sleeper-hit HOUSE) and written by Lucinda Coxon, based on the novel of same name by Sarah Waters. THE LITTLE STRANGER is a different type of sleeper – one of the slowest moving films of the year a sort of THE SLOW AND THE FURIOUS.
The subject of the film is Dr. Faraday, As a small boy, he was fascinated by Hundreds Hall, even stooping so low then, to stealing while entering the grounds. Grown up now, Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is a country doctor. During the summer of 1947, he tends to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked as a housemaid. The Hall, which has fallen into decline, is home to Mrs. Ayres (Charlotte Rampling) and her two children, Caroline (Ruth Wilson) and Roddy. After taking on the new patient, Dr. Faraday finds the Ayres family’s story will soon become entwined with his own. ‘The house does not like us.’
Director Abrahamson appears fascinated with the English countryside, thus making it his priority to create atmosphere instead of gothic mood. The scenes are often dimly lit with natural light, and he is fond of scenes set during dawn when the sun first begins to appear. If there is light in the house, it is usually in the background, so that the figures in his images are only often silhouetted. All this is fine as the film looks great, thanks to his cinematographer. But with atmosphere, the film is stuck in the mire of looks, as if unable to burst it out of the story it so wishes to tell.
The film feels at many times wanting to burst back into the past through flashback but only seldom does. Most of the part is revealed through dialogue and musings.
Characters come and go as fleeting as the morning dew. The film could see more of the story’s most interesting character, Roderick (Will Poulter), the facially disfigured war veteran being treated by Faraday for PTSD symptoms. Not much is revealed of Carolyn’s sister or the origins of the dark forces that could be inhabiting Hundreds Halls. Roderick mysteriously disappears after a third through the film. Though set two years after World War II, nothing is ever mentioned of the war, safe for the Roderick character.
The feeling of ‘it could be or it could not be supernatural” is always sustained. In many films, this tactic creates more mystery but in this film, it creates more annoyance with the feeling of indecision as to where the film is heading to.
Gleeson as Dr.Faraday appears stoic and sleeping walking through his role. Rampling does her usual ‘there is something odd about this woman’ character. The romance between Faraday and Carolyn unfolds so slowly, it feels non-existent, though one might argue that that was the purpose in mind.
For the few scary or death scenes, the audience is always warned that something is going to go wrong from the dialogue. “What can happen in the nursery?” or “There is something in the house that frightens me.”
THE LITTLE STRANGER ends up with more period gothic atmosphere than genuine scares.