Domhnall Gleeson in The Little Stranger (2018)


(director: Lenny Abrahamson; screenwriter: Lucinda Coxon/novel by Sarah Waters; cinematographer: Ole Bratt Birkeland; editor: Nathan Nugent; music: Stephen Rennicks; cast: Ruth Wilson (Caroline Ayres), Domhnall Gleason (Dr. Faraday), Oliver Zetterstrom (Young Faraday), Will Poulter (Roderick Ayres), Charlotte Rampling (Angela Ayres), Josh Dylan (Bland); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Gail Egan, Andrea Calderwood, Ed Guiney; Focus Features; 2018)

“It’s a curious atmospheric but flawed psychodrama.”


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s based on a 2009 neo-Gothic novel by Sarah Waters. The haunted-house mystery story staidly reflects on the past and the damaged characters from that time. It’s an atmospheric but flawed psychodrama (too monotonous to be diverting and too frosty to be cold-blooded chilling) that’s nevertheless ably directed by the talented Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”/”Frank”) and written by Lucinda Coxon.In 1948 in Warwickshire, England, the respected and reserved country doctor, Dr. Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson), treats Betty (Liv Hill), a servant at the once magnificent Hundreds Hall. It’s the ancestral home of the aristocratic Ayres family for more than two centuries, but has now gone to seed and has a reputation as a haunted house. The doctor’s mom was a housemaid there. While in the house he warmly recalls in 1919, when 8, there was a fair on the estate attended by the working class of the village, as he made his only visit there. Faraday is the titular Little Stranger, who on the visit is filled with so many rich memories that he seems overwhelmed to be here again. The current residents include the noble matriarch Mrs. Angela Ayres (Charlotte Rampling) and her two adult children: the disfigured and metally troubled from W.W.II wounds Roderick (Will Poulson), and the attractive spinster Caroline (Ruth Wilson). The sadness that lingers over the family concerns the eldest daughter Susan, who died years before at the age of eight from diphtheria. We are left wondering if it is her ghost making the floors creak with strange sounds, causing the banging noises in the halls and the incessant ringing of a servant’s bell from an empty room. The real story here is not a spooky one but in the frozen in time mansion becoming a metaphor for the once sound family now psychologically falling apart. How one takes to that without the usual Gothic horror pic scares will determine how much you like the film. Abrahamson needs to improve his genre Gothic storytelling skills to make it a more realized off-beat horror pic venture than just an incurious melodrama.


REVIEWED ON 11/30/2018 GRADE: B-