Movie Review: The Little Stranger

The Hereditary trailer has a lot to answer for, especially when discussing the strangely muted reception to Lenny Abrahamson’s latest, The Little Stranger. Hereditary is 2018’s great word of mouth horror, much of which was down to an incredibly distinctive trailer that condensed much of its scares into short, sharp slices of film.  Since then other films, including the remake of Suspiria, Bad Night at the El Royale, and The Little Stranger have been teased with trailers cut the same way as Hereditary. In the case of The Little Stranger, this approach has done much more harm than good.

While The Little Stranger does deal in the same sense of constant dread as Hereditary, it doesn’t have the same visceral shocks as the former, which has led many a critic and viewer to voice their distaste at a film that wasn’t even close to what the trailer sold them. Thankfully for myself, I had read Sarah Waters novel earlier this year, realizing that as I got deeper into the story that this wasn’t the British version of say The Haunting of Hill House that I was expecting. Instead, The Little Stranger is much more concerned about the ghost of a society whose body is still decomposing in full view of the people who are paving over it.

Domnhall Glesson plays Doctor Faraday, a country physician who is called out to the once impressive Hundreds Hall after the manor’s maid is taken ill. It’s here that the doctor meets the last decedents of the once-great Ayres family: the man of the house Roderick, played by Will Poulter, a veteran of the Second World War who has returned home bearing profound emotional and physical wounds from his time in service; his sister Caroline, played by Ruth Wilson, who has returned from a promising career to nurse her brother, and their mother Angela, played by Charlotte Rampling. Faraday himself has his own history with Hundreds Hall, as a childhood memory of his last, and until now, only visit to the great house ended with him breaking off a piece of the place for himself. Indeed, that old pull is still there as Faraday, a man with a working-class background and a pointed upward trajectory, becomes a major presence in the live of the Ayres family.

It doesn’t take long for the ghostly goings on begin to creep into the narrative, but unlike, say, The Conjuring universe movies, The Little Stranger doesn’t devolve into a bunch of jump scares and set pieces designed to make the evil entity look cool. Instead, The Little Stranger uses its creeping dread in ways that are in service to the characters, stretching their sanity to breaking point with a presence that is ambiguous enough to give the viewers who are happy to engage with it hours of theorizing about the true nature of the what we have witnessed.

Lenny Abrahamson has carefully crafted a horror story that shows off human frailty, the underlying jealousy in a class war that is slowly disintegrating in a society crippled by the aftermath of two devastating wars, and the entitlement that has grown from that shift in power. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Gleeson and Wilson in particular communicating deeply layered performances that are full of offhand gestures and telling body language. The Little Stranger has been poorly served in its release, but it’s a fantastically moody tale that will creep under your skin and haunt you for weeks afterward. Don’t let it fall through the cracks, go and see The Little stranger while you can. You’ll have a more rewarding experience than The Nun.

By Kevin Boyle

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(header image courtesy of Collider)

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