The Little Stranger: Film Review

I read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters purely because I knew Domhnall Gleeson was going to be starring in the adaptation, to be directed by Lenny Abrahamson. I am a huge fan of them both, obviously, but sadly the film doesn’t capture all the building tension, mystery and intrigue of the book, yet retains its annoyingly vague ending.

It is 1947 in Warwickshire, England. Gleeson plays Dr. Faraday, who is called to check on maid Betty (Liv Hill) at Hundreds Hall, a once magnificent mansion that is now in a state of disrepair. While there, he offers to help Roddy (Will Poulter), who has been left burned and disabled from the war, fix his leg, and during his increasingly frequent visits, Faraday, who was obsessed with the hall following a peek inside when he was a kid, develops a bond with Roddy’s sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson). Roddy’s mental state begins to decline and he becomes convinced that the hall is out to get them – including their mother (Charlotte Rampling) – and a series of mysterious, unexplained events occur.

The Little Stranger cannot be defined by one genre – it is a bit of a horror, a period drama, a psychological thriller and also a romance. I usually like when films try to blend genres, but The Little Stranger doesn’t do any of them particularly well and I don’t really know who this would appeal to. Those who love period dramas and romances may not enjoy the potentially supernatural stuff, while horror and thriller fans will be thoroughly disappointed by how few scares there are. I’m a total chicken and I found only 2-3 things scary. It does well with building a sense of dread and foreboding about what’s going to happen, but not much DOES happen, only a handful of moments that are few and far between, and they are very subtle and edited in ways to make them less scary. I kept waiting for the horror factor to step up a notch, but it didn’t.

The ending is another issue. The film is totally loyal to the book, which is unfortunate, because the novel’s ending is vague and open-ended. So you’ve spent this whole movie waiting for an explanation, if it’s supernatural or if somebody is behind the spooky goings on, and you don’t get one. Or, at least, you don’t get an obvious one. This movie is far too subtle for its own good. I think I know what the ending meant, but my friend interpreted it completely differently, so who knows the definitive answer.

I am usually a fan of Gleeson’s work but he was just reliably fine here. Faraday is a bland, slippery character because you don’t know if he genuinely likes Caroline or if he has an ulterior motive, so you never really figure out who he is. It is told from his perspective and he is an unreliable narrator. Wilson adds a lot of personality to proceedings (thankfully), but my favourites were Poulter, whose old-fashioned posh accent and physicality were impressive, and Hill, as they both get the most showy, emotional work.

The Little Stranger will not please everybody because it’s trying to be so many things at once. It’s such a shame because the novel had an intriguing sense of mystery and dread and the film didn’t always capture it. It was very slow and the scary moments weren’t big enough to snap my attention back. Such a shame.

In cinemas Friday 21st September 

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